April 29, 2006

Centralize This

I've been working for some time on a hobby project to make my own Google Map. Just for fun, I've been trying to mash together a Google Map of the world and the COC 2006 Olympic Team Handbook.

I know that the Olympic boat sailed long ago, but I'm not really a web programmer, and it took me this long to get it working the way I wanted it! I do have a real job, believe it or not. Anyway, here it is. Be patient when trying to change from birthplace to hometown to residence; it takes a few seconds to place all the markers. I haven't tested it using Firefox yet, but I will tomorrow. If there are any Safari users out there who want to provide feedback, feel free.

If you're looking for a deep point to this (beyond that most human desire, to say "Look what I have created"), I'll see if I can point out just one interesting observation. Further exploration is up to you.

Centralization of Olympic Athletes in the Canadian West

The image above shows the birthplaces (top, red), hometowns (middle, blue) and residences (bottom, green) of Canada's 2006 Olympic athletes for the western provinces. There are many fewer athletes resident in the rural west than are born there. Where are they all going? It's hard to see in the image above, but here's a hint: try using my Google Map to zoom in on Calgary.

April 25, 2006

Organized Sports

Canadian sporting hero Silken Laumann has written a book. I should know better than to judge a book by its press release, but as the father of two kids under five, the headline in the Ottawa Citizen certainly caught my eye: Take your kids out of sports, top rower Silken Laumann says.

Of course, after reading the rest of the article, it seems that Ms. Laumann's position is considerably more nuanced (surprise, surprise). Here's an excerpt from Child's Play:

I am certainly not suggesting that we stop all organized sports and activities, but I am advocating that we pull back in order to create the time for families to be active together. Let's not make physical activity too complicated. Let's rejoice in the fact that our kids want to move and encourage them to jump a little more, wrestle a little more, run outside roaring.

Allow me to superimpose that thought — and the objectives of Laumann's organization, Silken's Active Kids — with some quotes from the Long Term Athlete Development Plan for Rowing, available from Rowing Canada Aviron (draft version here). Here's what Laumann's own "organized sport," and many others across Canada, have to say about young kids and sport:

Stage 1: Active Start
Age: 0 to 6 years
Objective: Learn fundamental movements and link them together into play.
Key Outcomes: Fun and movement skills.
Physical activity should be fun and a natural part of a child’s daily life, not something required.Active play is the way young children are physically active.
Rowing does not have a direct role to play during the Active Start stage other than to support organizations that promote physical activity.

Stage 2: FUNdamentals
Age: females 6 to 8, males 6 to 9
Objective: Learn fundamental movement skills and build overall motor skills.
Key Outcomes: At the end of this stage, children will

  • be competent in the fundamental movement skills.
  • know how to swim.
Skill development in the FUNdamentals stage should be well structured and FUN, with the emphasis on participation. Children should be encouraged to participate in a variety of sports and physical activity in order to develop fundamental movement skills:
  • Agility, Balance, Coordination, and Speed (ABCs)
  • Kinesthetics, Gliding (“run”), Buoyancy, Striking with a body part (KGBs)
  • Running, Jumping,Throwing (RJTs)
  • Catching, Kicking, Striking with an implement (CKs)
In addition, children should learn water safety and how to swim.
Rowing does not have a direct role to play during the FUNdamentals stage other than to support organizations that promote physical activity and the development of fundamental movement skills.

April 21, 2006

Scene of the Crime

I'm away for the weekend, back at the scene of my former glory personal best in Gainesville, Georgia, the Poultry Capital of the World:

Georgia Poultry Park has a 25-foot tall Georgia marble monument topped by a 36-inch bronze rooster, featuring poultry industry information on six plaques at its base.

The Canadian National Team Trials are not being held at Poultry Park, but at Clarks Bridge Park, a much more scenic locale.

April 17, 2006

WADA Statistics 2005

A couple of weeks ago WADA released a summary of their anti-doping test results for 2005. The rate of positive tests saw a sharp increase, from 1.03% (19/1848) in 2004, to 1.96% (61/3114) in 2005.

I have written before about the fact that these numbers, as reported, never include error bars — estimates on the uncertainty in the real rate of doping.

As I noted in that post, if we assume that the rate of positive tests is an accurate measurement of the doping rate in the athlete population, it's actually fairly simple to calculate the uncertainty that goes with that measurement. Using that algorithm, the 2004 rate becomes (1.03 ± 0.24)%, and the 2005 rate is (1.96 ± 0.25)%. The increase is almost four standard deviations, so it's clearly significant.

WADA had their own explanation for the increase:

The 2005 figures include several elevated T/E ratios [a urine parameter used in testosterone testing] over 4, which were not reported in previous years when the threshold was 6, partially accounting for the increased number of AAFs [Adverse Analytical Findings] in 2005. However, there is a significant increase in other AAFs, such as those for steroids. One reason for this may be WADA’s increasingly targeted approach to testing.

WADA is suggesting, then, that the increase in the rate of positive tests is not due to an increase in the rate of doping; it's because of an increase in the effectiveness of the testing program. In short, WADA has succeeded in testing more cheaters. We can take that suggestion under consideration; it's difficult to prove the case either way.

I should (again) point out that the measured doping rate is still extremely low. I think it is far below the rate that most people would guess, if you asked them what percentage of elite athletes use performance-enhancing drugs. Although I would have to assume that the measured rate is an underestimate of the actual rate, I think the common wisdom exaggerates the prevalence of doping.

I've come to realize, however, that this is almost like arguing over religion; some people will never be convinced. A lack of positive tests simply proves, for those sports fans, that the testing program is ineffective. It's the old axiom that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." And if the positive test rate ever reached zero, it would only prove that testing is 100% ineffective. So to those people, I have to ask: what kind of proof would change your opinion? Perhaps you'd be convinced by around-the-clock surveillance?

Even if an athlete is tested every day, somebody will suggest that we don't know what he's doing in his bathroom after showering and maybe that's when he injects undetectable steroids. … OK, fine, says the athlete. Put a Web cam on me for six months before the Olympics and feed it straight to a small panel of testers at USADA. Then they will know what I'm doing in my bathroom. Better yet, attach a USADA rep to my hip for six months before the Olympics. Let him check the trash every day. Let him frisk my visitors.

April 14, 2006

Leg Up

I'm not disabled. I just don't have any legs. — Oscar Pistorius, 2005

It's been more than a year since I wrote about South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius. He's in the news again this week, as he prepares to defend his 100 m and 200 m titles at the Visa Paralympic World Cup in May.

Pistorius, you will recall, is missing both of his legs below the knee. His personal best over 400 m, which is also a world record, is 47.34 seconds. That time ranked him fifth in South Africa in 2005 — not fifth among disabled runners, but fifth among all runners.

His goal is to compete in the 2008 Olympics. He figures he needs two seconds of improvement, or maybe a little more, to qualify for the South African team. Now, two seconds is a long way in 400 m; but there are two things working in his favour here. The first is that he is only 19 years old, and the second is that he has only been running since January 2004. It will be interesting to watch his progress over the next few years. It will also be interesting to watch how the IAAF handles his case.

I love photo finishes — there is something that appeals to me about the weird dimensionality of the photos. Because I find them fascinating, and to demonstrate Pistorius' current level, I constructed a composite photo depicting all of the finishers in the men's 400 m at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki.

Men's 400m, 2005 World Championships (click to enlarge)

The composite includes all seven heats, three semifinals, and the final, although a few of the slowest finishers were not included in the photos. The guy in the red box is Pistorius — based on his personal best 47.34.

(Incidentally, the guy way over there on the right is Jeremy Wariner. He just turned 22.)

April 11, 2006

Canada's 2006 Performance, Part 3

In Part 1 of this post, I reviewed some predictions of Canada's medal performances at the 2006 winter Olympics. In Part 2, I discussed the overall performance of the team by sport, and assessed progress toward achieving the goals of the Own the Podium 2010 program. In this final segment, I want to take a quick look at two other aspects of the Canadian team's performance.


Way back when I started this blog, my first "left-brain special" was an analysis of Canada's performance at the 2004 summer Olympic Games; specifically, the number of 2003 World Champions and World Championship medallists who won Olympic medals in 2004. What I found was that Canada did very poorly in that regard, converting only one out of every three medal favourites. I took a similar measure for five other countries and found that 2003 World Championship medals were converted to Olympic medals at about a 60% rate, and 2003 World Champions won Olympic medals about 90% of the time.

The Own the Podium 2012 plan, which I discussed in Part 2, makes a similar point. The 2002 "success rate" is quoted as 27%, with a goal of 50% by 2010. I don't know exactly what those numbers are based on, but it has something to do with the percentage of Canadian medal favourites who actually win medals at the Olympics. To the best of my knowledge it is based on results at World Championships and World Cups, but I don't know the details of the algorithm.

The COC did release a lot of information on past results, and 2006 performances. This document contains some very interesting breakdowns of Canada's performance, including a table showing the number of top-5 finishes at the 2001 and 2005 World Championships, compared to the number of Olympic medals in 2002 and 2006. In 2001, Canada had 27 top-5 World Championship results; by 2005, Canada had increased that number to 41. In both cases Canada's year-after Olympic medal total was about 60% of this number. If the percentage is meant to increase as a result of Own the Podium, it hasn't worked so far. On the other hand, Canada's results are similar to the world's other winter powers; among the top 12 medal-winning nations in 2006, only Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, and Korea exceeded 70%.

At any rate, that statistic isn't really about "conversion," since it doesn't address medal favourites specifically. Since I don't have access to the COC's definition of success rate, I'll have to repeat my own. Table 1 below shows the athletes and teams that won World Championship medals in 2005, with their 2006 results.

Table 1 — Canadian conversion from 2005 World Championship medals to 2006 Olympic medals (source: COC).
Athlete or TeamEvent2005 Placing2006 Placing
Emily Brydon Women's Alpine Combined 3 13
Leuders/Brown 2-man Bobsleigh 1 2
Canada-1 4-man Bobsleigh 3 4
Sara Renner Women's Cross Country Sprint 3 16
Canada Men's Curling 1 1
Jeffrey Buttle Men's Figure Skating 2 3
Steve Omischl Men's Freestyle Aerials 1 20
Jeffrey Bean Men's Freestyle Aerials 2 19
Marc-André Moreau Men's Freestyle Moguls 2 4
Canada Men's Hockey 2 7
Canada Women's Hockey 2 1
Jeff Pain Men's Skeleton 1 2
Jasey-Jay Anderson Men's Snowboard PGS 1 20
François Boivin Men's Snowboardcross 2 10
Justin Lamoureux Men's Snowboard Halfpipe 2 21
Maëlle Ricker Women's Snowboardcross 3 4
Kristina Groves Women's Speedskating 3000m 3 8
Canada Women's Speedskating Team Pursuit 2 2
Clara Hughes Women's Speedskating 5000m 3 1
Cindy Klassen Women's Speedskating 1500m 1 1
Cindy Klassen Women's Speedskating 3000m 1 3
Jeremy Wotherspoon Men's Speedskating 500m 3 9
Canada Men's Short Track Relay 1 2
Canada Women's Short Track Relay 1 2
François-Louis Tremblay Men's Short Track 500m 1 2

There were 25 Canadian entries that went into the 2006 Olympics as defending World Championship medallists. Of these, 12 won medals, for a conversion rate of 48%. That's better than what I found at the 2004 summer Olympics, but it's tough to compare the summer and winter data directly. Eight out of ten Canadian World Champions managed to win medals, which is also significantly better than I observed in the 2004 results. I can't compare to other countries, or to Canada in 2002, without a lot more leg work than I am willing to do right now. However, it looks to me like Canada's success rate has improved somewhat.

Beyond Medals

Finally, a while back one of my commenters wrote that counting "top 8" finishes might be a better measure of NOC strength than counting medals. I responded that unfortunately that information is not easy to come by. The COC report that I mentioned above spells it all out completely.

Figure 1

Figure 1: click to enlarge

Figure 1 — National performance from the 2006 winter Olympic games. The stacked bars show gold medals, total medals, top-4, top-5, and top-8 finishes (click to enlarge).

The figure at right lays out the gold medals, total medals, top-4, top-5, and top-8 finishes for the top 10 medal-winning countries. There are a few interesting things here. First, Canada did indeed have more fourth-place finishes than any other country (13). Canada finished tied with Germany for most top-4 (37) and top-5 (45) finishes.

Korea had very few finishers in 4th to 8th position — three, compared to eleven medallists — indicating a lack of overall depth. This is of course supported by the fact that 10 of 11 medals came in a single sport. Austria and Sweden show the same effect to a lesser degree, whereas Norway's overall depth is revealed by the large number of top-8 finishes, in spite of the poor showing in the medal tables.

April 07, 2006

More Money In

More from the IOC Executive Board meeting: the IOC expects to bring in more and more money for the rights to broadcast the Olympics:

The IOC's Asian negotiations come after the conclusion of negotiations with U.S. and European broadcasters, who Carrion says paid rates more than 30 percent higher for the 2010 and 2012 games than they did in previous contracts. … The amounts the IOC pulls in keep climbing. Even without the Asian markets, TV rights sales so far for the 2010 and 2012 Games have exceeded $2.9 billion, eclipsing the $2.5 billion for the Turin Games and Beijing Games.

On the surface, the most surprising revelation here is that NBC agreed to pay $2 Billion for the US broadcast rights, a 35 percent increase over what they paid for 2006/2008. It was widely reported that NBC did very poorly on their ratings for the 2006 coverage. So what would make them up their bid this much?

First, of course, NBC will be hoping to make most of its money back on the summer Olympics, not the winter Olympics, so the bad ratings for the winter Olympics aren't necessarily critical. Second, the negotiated rights aren't just for television; they include internet multimedia, too, and NBC saw record traffic on their web site in February.

A little research, though, reveals the real reason for the disconnect: NBC made their bid for 2010/2012 long before the 2006 Games — in fact, even before they knew the identity of the 2010 or 2012 host cities!

So the offer from NBC reflected their best guess at potential advertising revenue more than two years ago. If the 2006 ratings indicate a real decrease in viewer interest, it will be a couple of years before we see the impact on the bid price.

As for the rising IOC revenues, the increase from US rights accounts for half a billion dollars of the bump. Even discounting that, it looks like the price for worldwide broadcast rights will show a significant increase over the four-year cycle.

April 06, 2006

Misreading Rogge (Again)

The IOC executive board is meeting in Seoul this week. In between sessions, president Jacques Rogge had this to say about baseball's possible inclusion on the Olympic programme for 2016:

We still have issues about doping. Progress has been made but not to the level where the Olympic family would accept it.

The Associated Press report makes it sound like Rogge has set a condition for baseball's reinstatement, and the Globe and Mail headline echos the opening paragraph: "Rogge: Baseball needs to address doping prior to reinstatement."

Of course, Rogge very carefully did not say that baseball would be back in if it cleans up its doping problem; and we all know that he cannot say that. Barring a change to the Olympic Charter, the decision on the sports programme will be made by a vote of the IOC members, not by Jacques Rogge. He's free to speculate about what might swing the vote in baseball's favour, but he really can't make any promises — or any threats, for that matter.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Rogge has a gift for this kind of thing.

April 05, 2006

Canada's 2006 Performance: Part 2

In my last post I presented a recap of my own predictions of Canadian medals at the 2006 winter Olympics, and compared them to the predictions from Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press. Today I would like to look at the Canadian medal performances with an eye to the future.

A little more than a year ago, the COC initiated a performance improvement plan called Own the Podium 2010. The program aims to have Canada win more medals than any country at the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver. I'm going to repeat a few of the key assumptions of OTP2010 here (emphasis mine):

  • Canada needs to win approximately 35 medals to succeed at becoming the top medal winner at the Olympic Winter Games in 2010.
  • Canada can win 35 medals in 2010 if it increases the number of potential medallists (from 160 currently identified to 211) and its success rate (from 27% in Salt Lake City to 50% in Vancouver).
  • Canada has the potential to increase the number of potential medallists in the sports of speed skating, short track, freestyle skiing, snowboard and bobsleigh. It takes eight to 12 years to develop Olympic athletes in the other sports.
  • Canada's success rate can be improved through increased Games preparation, technology, research and development, and human performance research.

As an interim goal, the COC stated that Canada could finish third in the medal table in 2006, an objective that was achieved last month.

So what can we say about the progress towards a winning performance in 2010? First of all, it probably won't take 35 medals to top the medal table, unless there is a significant increase in the number of medals awarded. A mere 30 medals would have been enough in 2006, and the general trend is that the top nations are winning less and less of the medal share.

That changes things a bit. In March of last year, I considered the chances of Canada winning 35 medals, and dismissed it as an impossible goal:

I'll be accused of being "too Canadian" for saying so, but: there's almost zero chance that this is going to happen in five years.

Should I change my mind about that?

Figure 1

Figure 1: click to enlarge

Figure 1 — Medals totals from the 2006 winter Olympic games. The three areas show the maximum possible number that could be won by a single country; the maximum number won by any single country; and the number won by Canada (click to enlarge).

My previous analysis was based on a look at the total number of medal events in each sport, and the likelihood of Canadian success. The figure inset shows the data for 2006, including the maximum possible number of medals that could be won in each sport, the number won by the leading country in 2006, and the number won by Canada. The maximum possible allows for multiple medals in a single event, and takes into account the NOC quotas in place for 2006, which can be accessed through the Torino 2006 web site. Of course, in most sports it is completely unrealistic to imagine that one country could win all of the available medals. The number won by the leading country in 2006 is probably a better indicator of what's possible. So in the plot, where there is a big gap between Canada's performance (red) and the world leader (dark blue), that indicates some room to move up in 2010.

A year ago I provided my recipe for getting to 35 medals. Here it is again, with comments from 2006:

  • Cover all the bases in ice hockey and curling (4 medals) — in 2006, Canada won three medals, missing out in men's hockey. Expect Canada to be a medal favourite for all four events again in 2010.
  • Make sure you pick up a handful of medals in figure skating, freestyle, and snowboard (4 medals) — in 2006, Canada won one medal in each discipline for a total of three. Some bad luck probably cost a couple of medals in freestyle and snowboard. On the other hand, Jeffrey Buttle could very easily have missed out. I think that 4-6 medals is probably a realistic goal for 2010.
  • Become the world's best speed skating nation, for long and short track (15 medals) — in 2006, Canada won 12 medals in the two sports combined, more than any other country. The men's team in long track didn't win an individual medal, and could do better. On the other hand, the women's team had a dream Olympics that will be difficult to repeat no matter how strong the program is. The short track team might improve if they can make some gains on Korea (10 medals). Getting three more medals, overall, would be a great accomplishment.
  • Become a top-two nation in cross-country skiing (6 medals) — in 2006, Canada won two medals, more than ever before. One of those, a gold, came from 22-year-old Chandra Crawford. Beckie Scott, Canada's most successful cross country skier, has now retired, but Crawford and Sara Renner should continue. After the Olympics, 23-year-old Devon Kershaw won Canada's first men's World Cup medal in decades. The men's team has also added 25-year-old Russian immigrant Ivan Babikov. Babikov, racing for Russia, finished 13th in the 30 km pursuit in Turin.
  • Become a top-two nation in alpine skiing (6 medals) — in 2006, Canada did not win a medal. The team continues its upward trend, however, with 3 fourth-place finishes from a relatively young team.

I don't think that I would change this recipe a whole lot. Certainly Canada has proven that some medals are available in bobsleigh and skeleton, but it remains to be seen if this four-medal performance can be repeated. A year ago I wrote:

There are Canadian contenders in bobsleigh and skeleton, but that talent pool is aging and not very deep.

I wasn't wrong about the age of the talent pool, certainly — Pierre Leuders is 35, Lascelles Brown is 31, Jeff Pain is 35, and Duff Gibson, at 39, is the oldest athlete ever to win an individual gold medal at the winter Olympics. Melissa Hollingsworth-Richards is only 26, so she might continue to improve. But if our sliders are going to win four medals in 2010, it will be because of the next crop of athletes in the system. The OTP2012 highlights quoted above imply that these athletes don't need as much development time as in other sports, so maybe there is fresh blood circulating through Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton as we speak. But the other point I should make is that there aren't that many medals to win in these sports, and nobody won more than four in 2006. There is not going to be a big increase, certainly, in the number of medals won in bobsleigh and skeleton.

Which all leaves us just about where we were a year ago, I think. In order to come out on top, Canada is going to have to win at least half a dozen medals, combined, in alpine and cross country skiing. That will get the total up to the low 30s, and that will probably be enough. Can it happen? At this point I am inclined to say yes. It isn't a sure thing, but it looks to me like the trend is pointing in the right direction, and it isn't the stretch I thought it was a year ago.

I have just a few more thoughts about the 2006 results, including a few comments about the Canadian "success rate." But I'll save those for part 3, and I'll see if I can find a few other interesting things to post about before I get to that.

April 03, 2006

Canada's 2006 Performance: Part 1

I've got a few odds and ends I wanted to tie up from the 2006 Winter Olympics, including my very early predictions about Canada's performance in 2010. First I would like to recap predictions for 2006, and see how I did and where I went wrong.

My prediction of 21.1 medals for Canada was based on assigning probabilities for the first, second, and third medal for each of the 84 events. I allowed seven different probabilities: 0, 10%, 25%, 50%, 75%, 90%, and 100% (the last of these I used only once). I admitted that I didn't do very much research, assuming that my overestimates and underestimates would more or less balance out, because I was making such a large number of guesses. Canada ended up winning 24 medals.

Figure 1

Figure 1: click to enlarge

Figure 1 — Comparison of predicted and actual medals won by Canada at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympic Games (click to enlarge).

It's always useful to check your assumptions, so I took a look at the number of medals actually won by Canadians that I put into each of these seven categories. (I am going to conveniently ignore, throughout this discussion, the fact that I listed names beside some of the probabilities; I'll just assume that when a Canadian won a medal, it was the Canadian I estimated for.)

It turns out that I didn't do too badly in assigning the original probabilities, and I did very well at assessing probability for the most likely winners. The figure in the inset at right shows the actual actual percentage of winners in each of the seven categories, and the difference between the actual number of winners and the expected number of winners. For the 100%, 90%, and 75% assignments, I was as close as I could possibly be; all of the five chances I put at 90% or more won medals, and six out of eight at 75% (the exceptions were in men's hockey and women's bobsleigh).

I was also exactly right about the no-hopers; not one of the entries I assigned a zero probability won a medal. The total number of correct predictions (188) looks impressive, but of course many of those were completely obvious, so it is difficult to assess how much credit I can take for my "perfect" score.

My biggest systematic error seems to have come in the 10% category, where I put 30 Canadian athletes or teams. Six of those (20%) won medals. If I assume that I had the 10% probability correct at the outset, the likelihood of getting exactly six medals from this group is less than 1 in 20; the likelihood of six or more medals is about 1 in 14. A more likely explanation is that I underestimated the chances for this group. I am not sure what further conclusion I can draw from that, but it might help guide my future predictions.

I would like to score myself against the COC's medal predictions, but I don't have any of the details. As far as I know, they didn't release any breakdown of their prediction to the public; I did see some articles claiming that "the COC has Pierre Leuders down for two medals" and the like, but I think they wisely held that kind of thing fairly close to the vest. I know that they got closer on the total (predicting 25), and they probably did better on the individual events, too, since they have a team of researchers tracking performances throughout the season.

It's kind of fun, though, to score myself against the professionals, so I took a closer look at the predictions from Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press. Of course there is no fair way to do this comparison, since both publications predict medals on a "True of False" basis, whereas I tried to attach a confidence level to each one. (I should also point out that these two sources attempted the prediction for every medal in every event, not just for a single country.) But just for fun, let's count all of my entries with 50% or higher as "True." That gives me a prediction of 22 medals instead of 21.1; SI predicted 21, and the AP predicted 24.

Table 1 — Comparison of expert predictions for Canada at 2006 Winter Olympics
SourcePredicted MedalsCorrectly Predicted WinIncorrectly Predicted WinUnpredicted Win
Now That's Amateur 22 17 5 7
Associated Press 24 16 8 8
Sports Illustrated 21 13 8 11

So by this scoring system — which is somewhat biased in my favour — I had more correct predictions than either publication, and fewer missed as well, even though my predicted total was not as close as the AP's.

Part 2 of this post will look at the 2006 Canadian medals by sport, and assess progress with respect to the goals of the Own The Podium 2010 program.