Olympic counties: Does it matter where medal-winners come from?

Gold pox boxes (images: Getty)

A geographical breakdown of Team GB's Olympic success reveals some areas with more prizes than others. Why is it important to people which counties fare best?

There is an accessory that every fashionable British community is sporting this summer. It is cast iron, cylindrical and daubed with bright metallic paint.

For each of the athletes who achieved a first-place finish at the Olympics, a postbox in their hometown has been re-coloured gold by Royal Mail.

Yet for all that it was intended as a patriotic celebration, the focus on localised achievement has cast a light on sub-national loyalties and rivalries.

It didn't take long, for instance, for Yorkshire-based social media users to calculate that the historic county's seven golds and total haul of a dozen medals would put it 12th on the global table were it an independent nation - a feat quickly trumpeted in adverts for tea brand Yorkshire Gold.

When a pillar box was painted gold in Harlow, Essex, birthplace of Laura Trott, the cyclist took to Twitter to protest that the marker should have been in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, where she grew up.

And an Olympic official even demanded a tribute be sited in Norfolk to Big Star, the horse that carried Nick Skelton to showjumping victory.

Whatever one's view on whether equine and human achievement should be valued equally, the passions raised by the recognition given to different localities tells us much about the layers of regional attachment that underlie British support for Team GB.

The attachment - particularly in England - to counties, many of which were swept aside in the local government reorganisations of the 1970s, is especially notable.

Young fans wave Union Jacks and flag of Yorkshire

For administrative purposes, Yorkshire was divided into three county councils as far back as 1888, and each of its ridings had been governed by separate lieutenancies since the Restoration.

And yet as soon as the medal table was revealed, tourism chiefs published a map to guide proud Tykes around the county via the home towns of its victorious athletes.

Of course, some counties have a much stronger identity than others. Cornwall boasts its own language and flag, while Essex folk can bond over the jokes made about them by outsiders.

But as Simon Kuper, author of Football Against the Enemy and a writer on the anthropology of sport, points out, not all counties proclaim their affiliations equally.

"If you live far from London, in a county with its own accent and traditions, you might be more likely to identify with Yorkshire, for instance," he says. "Likewise, the Geordie identity seems quite strong, whereas if you live in the south-east of England you might be more likely to identify yourself purely as English.

"But English identity and Yorkshire identity are complementary - they don't diminish each other in any way."

Certainly, other sub-national British identities are forged on a civic or a regional rather than a county basis - and are fuelled by competitiveness as much as innate pride.

The rivalry between North Wales and South Wales is a much-observed phenomenon. In Scotland, the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh view each other with suspicion from across the central belt - just like Manchester and Liverpool along the M62.

People in Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield, south Yorkshire watch Jessica Ennis in the long jump event of the heptathlon

In Olympics terms, of course, this is exacerbated by the fact that some parts of the country have more to shout about than others.

Unsurprisingly, London, the capital city with 8m inhabitants, can boast a wealth of medals.

And yet with a population of just 600, the island of Sark - which boasts a postbox repainted in honour of Carl Hester of the British dressage team - has a per capita tally to boast about.

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"Yorkshire has always prided itself in coming top in everything possible; my generation was brought up to assume that no other county was permitted to win the county cricket championship," writes Martin Wainwright in the Guardian's Northerner blog.

"It should do, of course, being so much vaster than everywhere else with - as I am afraid I repeat frequently - the West Riding alone being England's second largest county."

Forget Team GB v China, says the London Evening Standard - the real rivalry has been between the capital and Yorkshire.

"There are a few technical stumbling blocks to this story - the main one being that half of the Yorkshire lot got their medals competing in team sports, which only count as one medal between the team, and there are no teams just made up of Yorkshiremen. Hence London's lead, as we have Mo Farah and Wiggo."

A population-to-medals infographic in the Huffington Post points out while Merseyside scored one medal per 676,700 people, and Wales one medal per 612,000, Yorkshire's ratio is one per 481,818.

What's more, with a population which does not always stay still, different communities can stake competing claims for an athletics hero.

Andy Murray's gold postbox is in Dunblane, where the tennis gold medallist grew up - although he was, in fact, born in Glasgow, moved to Barcelona to train at 15 and now lives near Wimbledon in south-west London.

And of course there is the complicating factor of those with origins outside the UK - such as cyclist Bradley Wiggins, who was born in Ghent, Belgium, and runner Mo Farah, who lived in Somalia until he was eight.

Of course, both men firmly identify with British communities.

Wiggins describes himself as a "kid from Kilburn", the north-west London district in which he grew up - although online debates have raged about whether he in fact belongs to neighbouring Maida Vale. Farah, for his part, reacted indignantly at a press conference when asked if he would rather represent the country of his birth: "Look mate, I'm British."

Dr Steve Garner of Aston University, who conducted a major study of social identity formation in provincial England, says that, ultimately, people's loyalties are organic - not determined by local authority boundary reviews.

"People's allegiances are generally much more local - estates, areas within estates, and at the most, a town or city," he says.

"I live in a part of Bristol that is in South Gloucestershire. I can't imagine for the life of me an identity project based on South Gloucestershire-ness, regardless of a medal haul."

Regardless of where the boundaries are drawn, the medal map will surely inspire many triumphant emails from inhabitants of well-favoured localities to their more sparsely-rewarded neighbours.

Whether it's in your county, city, postcode district or street, a gold postbox is clearly worth bragging about.

More than 100 Team GB athletes will be returning home with a medal from the London 2012 Olympics. Find out where they are from with the map and sortable table below.

Eight medal winners were born abroad and one in the Channel Islands

The map shows English county boundaries, Scottish council areas, Welsh unitary authorities and district council areas in Northern Ireland.

Map showing medals by athlete's county of birth

Team GB: Who won what

Athlete Discipline Medals Birthplace Country or county

Source: Team GB

Alan Campbell

Rowing, men's single sculls

Bronze

Coleraine

Coleraine

Alex Gregory

Rowing, men's four

Gold

Cheltenham

Gloucestershire

Alex Partridge

Rowing, men's eight

Bronze

San Francisco

USA

Alistair Brownlee

Men's triathlon

Gold

Dewsbury

West Yorkshire

Andrew Triggs Hodge

Rowing, men's four

Gold

Aylesbury

Buckinghamshire

Andy Murray

Tennis, men's singles & mixed doubles

Gold & silver

Glasgow

Glasgow

Alexandra Danson

Women's hockey

Bronze

Southampton

Hampshire

Andrew Simpson

Sailing, men's Star

Silver

Chertsey

Surrey

Anna Watkins

Rowing, women's double sculls

Gold

Leek

Staffordshire

Anne Panter

Women's hockey

Bronze

Kettering

Northamptonshire

Anthony Joshua

Boxing, super heavyweight

Gold

Watford

Hertfordshire

Anthony Ogogo

Boxing, men's middleweight

Bronze

Great Yarmouth

Norfolk

Ashleigh Ball

Women's hockey

Bronze

Brighton

Brighton and Hove

Ben Ainslie

Sailing, men's finn

Gold

Macclesfield

Cheshire

Ben Maher

Equestrian jumping

Gold

Enfield

London

Beth Storry

Women's hockey

Bronze

Reading

Berkshire

Beth Tweddle

Gymnastics, women's uneven bars

Bronze

Johannesburg

South Africa

Bradley Wiggins

Road cycling, men's time trials

Gold

Ghent

Belgium

Carl Hester

Equestrian, dressage

Gold

Sark

Channel Islands

Charlotte Dujardin

Equestrian, dressage

Gold x2

Newent

Gloucestershire

Chloe Rogers

Women's hockey

Bronze

Harlow

Essex

Chris Bartley

Rowing, men's lightweight four

Silver

Wrexham

Wrexham

Christine Ohuruogu

Athletics, women's 400m

Silver

London

London

Christopher Froome

Road cycling, men's time trials

Bronze

Nairobi

Kenya

Constantine Louloudis

Rowing, men's eight

Bronze

London

London

Crista Cullen

Women's hockey

Bronze

Boston

Lincolnshire

Dani King

Track cycling, women's team pursuit

Gold

Southampton

Hampshire

Daniel Purvis

Gymnastics, men's artistic

Bronze

Liverpool

Merseyside

David Florence

Canoeing, men's double

Silver

Edinburgh

Edinburgh

Ed Clancy

Track cycling, men's omnium & team pursuit

Gold & bronze

Barnsley

South Yorkshire

Ed Mckeever

Men's kayak single 200m

Gold

Bath

Somerset

Emily Maguire

Women's hockey

Bronze

Glasgow

Glasgow

Etienne Stott

Canoeing, men's double

Gold

Manchester

Greater Manchester

Fred Evans

Boxing, men's welterweight

Silver

Cardiff

Cardiff

Gemma Gibbons

Judo, women's 78kg

Silver

Greenwich

London

George Nash

Rowing, men's pair

Bronze

Guildford

Surrey

Georgie Twigg

Women's hockey

Bronze

Lincoln

Lincolnshire

Geraint Thomas

Track cycling, men's team pursuit

Gold

Cardiff

Cardiff

Greg Rutherford

Athletics, men's long jump

Gold

Milton Keynes

Buckinghamshire

Greg Searle

Rowing, men's eight

Bronze

Ashford

London

Hannah Macleod

Women's hockey

Bronze

Boston

Lincolnshire

Hannah Mills

Sailing, women's 470

Silver

Cardiff

Cardiff

Heather Stanning

Rowing, women's pair

Gold

Yeovil

Somerset

Helen Glover

Rowing, women's pair

Gold

Truro

Cornwall

Helen Richardson

Women's hockey

Bronze

Hitchin

Hertfordshire

Iain Percy

Sailing, men's star

Silver

Southampton

Hampshire

Jade Jones

Taekwondo - women's 57kg

Gold

Bodelwyddan

Denbighshire, Wales

James Foad

Rowing, men's eight

Bronze

Southampton

Hampshire

Jason Kenny

Track cycling, men's individual sprint & team sprint

Gold x2

Bolton

Greater Manchester

Jessica Ennis

Athletics, heptathlon

Gold

Sheffield

South Yorkshire

Joanna Rowsell

Track cycling, women's team pursuit

Gold

Carshalton

London

Jon Schofield

Men's kayak double 200m

Bronze

Petersfield

Hampshire

Jonny Brownlee

Triathlon

Bronze

Leeds

West Yorkshire

Karina Bryant

Judo, women's +78kg

Bronze

Kingston upon Thames

Surrey

Kate Walsh

Women's hockey

Bronze

Manchester

Greater Manchester

Katherine Copeland

Rowing, women's lightweight double sculls

Gold

Ashington

Northumberland

Katherine Grainger

Rowing, women's double sculls

Gold

Glasgow

Glasgow

Kristian Thomas

Gymnastics, men's artistic

Bronze

Wolverhampton

West Midlands

Kristina Cook

Equestrian eventing

Silver

Findon

West Sussex

Laura Bartlett

Women's hockey

Bronze

Glasgow

Glasgow

Laura Bechtolsheimer

Equestrian dressage

Gold & bronze

Mienz

Germany

Laura Robson

Tennis, mixed doubles

Silver

Melbourne

Australia

Laura Trott

Track cycling, women's omnium, team pursuit

Gold x2

Harlow

Essex

Laura Unsworth

Women's hockey

Bronze

Sutton Coldfield

West Midlands

Liam Heath

Men's kayak double, 200m

Bronze

Guildford

Surrey

Lizzie Armitstead

Road cycling, women's road race

Silver

Leeds

West Yorkshire

Louis Smith

Gymnastics, men's pommel horse

Silver & bronze

Peterborough

Cambridgeshire

Luke Campbell

Boxing, men's bantamweight

Gold

Hull

East Yorkshire

Luke Patience

Sailing, men's 470

Silver

Aberdeen

Aberdeen

Lutalo Muhammad

Taekwondo, men's 80kg

Bronze

Walthamstow

London

Mark Hunter

Rowing, men's lightweight double sculls

Silver

London

London

Mary King

Equestrian eventing

Silver

Newark on Trent

Nottinghamshire

Matthew Langridge

Rowing, men's eight

Bronze

Crewe

Cheshire

Max Whitlock

Gymnastics, men's pommel horse

Bronze x2

Hemel Hempstead

Hertfordshire

Michael Jamieson

Swimming, men's 200m breaststroke

Silver

Glasgow

Glasgow

Mo Farah

Athletics, men's 5,000m, 10,000m

Gold x2

Mogadishu

Somalia

Mohamed Sbihi

Rowing, men's eight

Bronze

Kingston upon Thames

Surrey

Nick Dempsey

Sailing, men's RS-X

Silver

Norwich

Norfolk

Nick Skelton

Equestrian jumping

Gold

Bedworth

Warwickshire

Nicola Adams

Boxing, women's flyweight

Gold

Leeds

West Yorkshire

Nicola White

Women's hockey

Bronze

Oldham

Greater Manchester

Nicola Wilson

Equestrian eventing

Silver

Darlington

County Durham

Peter Chambers

Rowing, men's lightweight four

Silver

Ballymoney

Balleymoney

Peter Charles

Equestrian jumping

Gold

Liverpool

Merseyside

Peter Kennaugh

Track cycling, men's team pursuit

Gold

Douglas

Isle of Man

Peter Reed

Rowing, men's four

Gold

Seattle

USA

Peter Wilson

Shooting, men's double trap

Gold

Dorchester

Dorset

Phelan Hill

Rowing, men's eight

Bronze

Bedford

Bedfordshire

Philip Hindes

Track cycling, men's team sprint

Gold

Krefeld

Germany

Rebecca Adlington

Swimming, women's 400m & 800m freestyle

Bronze x2

Mansfield

Nottinghamshire

Richard Chambers

Rowing, men's lightweight four

Silver

Belfast

Belfast

Richard Egington

Rowing, men's eight

Bronze

Warrington

Cheshire

Richard Hounslow

Canoeing, men's double

Silver

Harrow

London

Rob Williams

Rowing, men's lightweight four

Silver

Taplow

Buckinghamshire

Robert Grabarz

Athletics, men's high jump

Bronze

Birmingham

West Midlands

Sally Walton

Women's hockey

Bronze

Southport

Merseyside

Sam Oldham

Gymnastics, men's artistic

Bronze

Nottingham

Nottinghamshire

Samantha Murray

Women's modern pentathlon

Silver

Preston

Lancashire

Sarah Thomas

Women's hockey

Bronze

Aberdare

Rhondda Cynon Taf

Saskia Clarke

Sailing, women's 470

Silver

Colchester

Essex

Scott Brash

Equestrian jumping

Gold

Edinburgh

Edinburgh

Sir Chris Hoy

Track cycling, men's keirin & team sprint

Gold x2

Edinburgh

Edinburgh

Sophie Hosking

Rowing, women's lightweight double sculls

Gold

Edinburgh

Edinburgh

Steven Burke

Track cycling, men's team pursuit

Gold

Burnley

Lancashire

Stuart Bithell

Sailing, men's 470

Silver

Rochdale

Greater Manchester

Tim Baillie

Men's canoe double

Gold

Aberdeen

Aberdeen

Tom Daley

Diving, men's 10m platform

Bronze

Plymouth

Devon

Tom James

Rowing, men's four

Gold

Cardiff

Cardiff

Tom Ransley

Rowing, men's eight

Bronze

Ashford

Kent

Victoria Pendleton

Track cycling, women's keirin & individual sprint

Gold & silver

Hitchin

Hertfordshire

Will Satch

Rowing, men's pair

Bronze

Oxford

Oxfordshire

William Fox-Pitt

Equestrian eventing

Silver

Canterbury

Kent

Zac Purchase

Rowing, men's lightweight double sculls

Silver

Cheltenham

Gloucestershire

Zara Phillips

Equestrian eventing

Silver

London

London

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