Vancouver Olympics Contenders

Saeed Khan/AFP Photo

Vancouver Olympics Contenders

Athletes from around the world have descended on Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Until Feb. 28, when the extravaganza draws to a close, global giants such as the U.S., Russia, and China will be battling it out for medal glory with much smaller countries, such as Finland and Liechtenstein, that punch above their weight in winter sports.

The tallies of winning athletes and nations won't be known until the Games come to an end. But even before the winter Olympiad started, a new study called "The Great Nations of Sport," released by Havas Sports & Entertainment, the sports marketing and sponsorship unit of French publishing and advertising giant Havas (HAVSF), made clear which countries lead the pack. The annual ranking counts gold, silver, and bronze medals won in the last winter and summer Olympics (respectively, Turin in 2006 and Beijing in 2008), plus the most recent global championships in 53 sports and 155 disciplines. All told, some 1,655 events are tallied.

The winner? The U.S., which scooped up 562 medals, including 204 golds, followed by China and Russia. The study unearthed a few surprises, too. Norway is the world leader in medals per capita, while the U.S. ranks a distant 38th. And though South Korea turns out to fare poorly in world championships, it has one of the highest success rates of any country in Olympic competition.

Of course, past success is no guarantee of glory in Vancouver. The U.S. currently leads in both golds and total medals, but that could change by Feb. 28. Click on to see which countries ranked highest in the Havas study and meet an athlete from each country who's a contender to mount the medals podium in Vancouver.