The United States dominated the 2008 Olympics, as the country with the biggest number of medals (110). However, China had more gold medals (getting 51, far more than the United States’ 36). Russia ranked third with a sum of 72 medals.
This would have been far different if this had been before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. If you combine Russia’s medals with those brought in by the 15 other countries that belonged to the USSR, then they would have dominated the Olympics. Together, they collected 171 models, more than fifty percent than that brought in by the United States.
This does prove that total medal count does have a lot to do with the size of a nation. If, hypothetically, the United States had been dissolved into two nations during the civil war, then the two “nations” would have had significantly less medals. China is a massive country with a deep pool of talents to pick from its ever-growing population. Russia, while still doing quite well in the Olympics, could not match its performance when it was the USSR—and consistently topped the global “medal race.”
However this scenario does not take into account other factors, such as the amount of funding and support a government gives to its athletes, and the selection process for its Olympic team. A country can only send a certain number of representatives; some medalists would have not even be able to make the cut, and maybe have been “weeded out” compared to those who had higher qualifications.
Smaller countries may also have the benefit of national pride and a desire to “prove” something, Ukraine came home with 27 medals; Belarus came home with 19 and Kazakhstan had 13. These former USSR members are smaller nations with limited economy, but the Olympics meant something far more than a “game.” The athletes went there with a motivation that may not have been present under different political conditions.