February 28, 2010

2010 Olympics - Day 16

If there was ever a time for the Svein Tuft award, today was the day. Actually, I am thinking of changing the name of the award.

In case you missed it this afternoon — and there was some other big news today about some kind of hockey game that was going on in Vancouver — Devon Kershaw finished fifth in the men's 50 km mass start event in cross country.

The 50 km race is considered the event of the Olympics and always has a star-studded field. Finishing ahead of Kershaw were defending world champion Petter Northug of Norway (bib 1 in the photo above), with his fourth medal of these games; Axel Teichmann of Germany (6), with his second; and Johan Olsson of Sweden (18), with his third. Kershaw (28) finished 1.6 seconds behind the winner (Northug), in a photo finish for fourth place with Tobias Angerer of Germany (19), a four-time Olympic medallist and the 2009 world championship bronze medallist in this event.

Canada had never finished better than Kaare Engstad's 16th-place in the 50 km in 1932.

Immediately after the two-hours-plus race, Kershaw commented that to finish one and a half seconds behind the Olympic champion "stings." I hope the sting has worn off by now, because this is a performance to be congratulated, not bemoaned. The whole men's cross country team has shown this week that it is a contender on the international stage, and Kershaw's result was a great finale to a week full of milestones.

February 27, 2010

2010 Olympics Week 2

I've been a negligent blogger this week due to other committments; but to be honest I've been enjoying my role as an Olympic spectator a lot more since I stopped writing about my medal prediction every day.

I promise (threaten?) that I'll have lots more to say when the Games are over about Own the Podium, the team's overall performance, and the post-mortem on my medal prediction. For the moment I am just going to give the last remnant of the prediction.

Now that we're down to the last two days of competition, and with Canada's (medal or non-medal) fate already decided in a few of the events, I don't really have the statistics of "large numbers" on my side. As a result, some of the numbers here are a bit meaningless.

Nevertheless, here they are. With teams already in the men's curling gold medal game, the men's hockey gold-medal game, and the men's speed skating team pursuit, team Canada is guaranteed to take at least 24 medals. I am showing the most likely number as 25 (45%), followed by 26 (30%). (The two best chances are in the four-man bobsleigh, and the men's snowboard parallel giant slalom, both today.) Altogether, there is an 83% chance that Canada will set a new national record for total number of medals at a Winter Olympics.

Canada has already set a new national record for the most gold medals won at the Winter Olympics, with 10. The previous best was 7 in Salt Lake City and Torino. I have not been able to confirm this, and I have not seen it written anywhere else — but as far as I have been able to determine, Canada has never won more than 10 gold medals in any Olympic Games, summer or winter. The previous highest total was 10 at the boycotted 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

February 22, 2010


The teachers and students at my son's elementary school are having a two-week celebration of the 2010 Winter Olympics this month. Each classroom has been "assigned" a Winter Olympic nation to follow, cheer for, and learn about. Last Thursday I was in to visit with one of the primary classes. I had a great time talking to the kids about the Olympics.

The inuksuk pictured at right is installed in the school's foyer.

In some ways, I have never been much of a Believer. I am trained to be something of a skeptic. I have, for example, at different times over the past five years, expressed various levels of disBelief that Canada could Own the Podium in 2010.

After nine days of competition, it's even more difficult for me to Believe that the Canadian team is going to win more medals than any other nation at these Games (despite the reassurances of people I respect at the COC). I Believe in numbers, and frankly, the numbers aren't looking too good. If you are in the business of counting Canadian medals at these Games, things are looking pretty grim.

In spite of all that, I still choose to Believe — and to hell with CTV The Canadian Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium and their official "broadcast theme song."

What I Believe — and what I love about the Olympic Games — is that every time I sit down to watch an Olympic competition, I am going to see the athletes performing in a way they have never performed before. I Believe, in particular, that Canadian athletes are going to show that they are among the very best in the world.

Sometimes, that Belief hurts. It is never easy to see an athlete's day end in misfortune or missed execution. Over the past three days, there has been enough Canadian misfortune and missed execution to fill a newspaper. It might be enough to make some people abandon their Belief.

But not me. Tonight, when I sit down on the couch to watch the Olympics again, I will choose to continue to Believe. And my reward will be to experience those moments when my favourite athletes achieve something I never expected — but Believed in anyway. If I ever lose that Belief, then I will have lost the best part of a sports fan's Olympic experience.

The truth is, there is no reason to think that an athletic misfortune yesterday will lead to another disappointment today. There are hundreds of athletes at the 2010 Olympic Games who have not yet had their last chance to compete. Those athletes, their coaches, and their families and friends still Believe. They Believe in themselves and the moment still in front of them. I'm going to be Believing right along with them.

February 21, 2010

2010 Olympics Day 8: Is Canada a Cross Country Country?

I admit it — lately I've been getting a bit down about Canadian results at the 2010 Olympics. But I don't want to forget about the great things that happen, just because they don't end in a podium ceremony.

On that note, yesterday's results in the cross country, the men's 30 km double pursuit, were a highlight of these games so far.

So the Day 8 Svein Tuft of the Day goes to the Canadian cross country ski team. In yesterday's race, Canada placed three men in the top 10 and four in the top 16. Ivan Babikov, previously highlighted here, finished fifth, nine seconds behind the winner. George Grey finished eighth, Alex Harvey was ninth, and Devon Kershaw finished in sixteenth place.

Although the double-pursuit format is relatively new to the Olympic Games, Canada's previous best-ever over 30 km was by Alex' father Pierre, a 14th place in 1988.

February 19, 2010

2010 Olympics Day 6: Defiant Fatigue

The COC issued this flash quote from Canadian biathlete Megan Tandy after the 15 km race on Day 6:

I felt pretty decent on the ski trails, defiantly fatigued on the last loop though.

To all my friends on the Mission Team: I wish you defiance in your fatigue as you start Day 7!

On another somewhat superficial note, Canada witnessed another one of Maëlle Ricker's talents tonight. If you didn't hear it, the Snowboardcross Olympic champion stepped into the CTV broadcast booth for a chat and started giving great commentary on the half-pipe competition she was watching. She sounded like a pro.

The usual medal table and picture are presented below. Day 7 is looking like a great chance to get on the "plus" side of my original prediction, and also a great chance for the Whistler team's first medal. For those of you in North America who are supposed to be working today, I'll point you to the great Vancouver 2010 official web site, where (for example) you can monitor live race splits in progress in the Men's Super G this afternoon.

I also love the GeoView presentation of the 2010 Athletes.

Sport Event Athlete Category Result Impact
Initial Prediction         27.05
Day 1         -0.75
Day 2         +0.45
Day 3         -0.50
Day 4         +0.00
Day 5         -0.70
Speed Skating - LT 1,000 m - W Nesbitt, Christine Lock GOLD +0.10
Speed Skating - LT 1,000 m - W Groves, Kristina Outside 4th -0.10
Figure Skating Singles - M Chan, Patrick Possibility 5th -0.35
Snowboard Halfpipe - W Nicoll, Mercedes Outside 6th -0.10
Alpine Ski Super Combined Brydon, Emily Outside 14th -0.10
Day 6         -0.55
Current         25.00

February 18, 2010

2010 Olympics Day 5

Unnoticed Noteworthy Performance for Day 5

For Day 5 I had a tough time finding an unexpected, non-medal, overachieving performance for Canada. It was one of those days. Due congratulations to Marianne St. Gelais for her silver in the short track 500 m yesterday, but the medal disqualifies her from consideration.

I'm going to name two co-recipients for yesterday. Both of them probably had dreams of getting on the podium, and missed; nevertheless I think that the performances were noteworthy and overshadowed.

Whistler native Britt Janyk finished sixth in the women's downhill yesterday, the best Canadian result in the premier alpine event since 1994. American Lindsey Vonn absolutely dominated the field, with her teammate Julia Mancuso the only competitor to come within a second of her time.

The second co-recipient for Day 5 is short track speedskater Jessica Gregg. Gregg did not have a great race in the 500 m final last night, but she got into the final by being great in the preliminary rounds. She finished fourth after a restart. Gregg will turn 22 in March, and is in her first Olympic Games.

Medal Prediction

Alright, I know I'm falling behind! It's nice to know that somebody's reading … even if it is to nag.

Canada "lost" another 0.7 medals yesterday, compared to my prediction. The short track women's 500 m was a good chance for two medals, so to win one was not enough to boost us back over my predicted pace.

I suspect that there are a number of Canadians starting to think that reaching the top of the medal table is going to be very tough. I agree. In fact, I agreed from the outset. To add to that feeling, the US team has exceeded my expectations a bit. However, there is still lots of reason to think that the highly-publicized Own the Podium goal can be achieved.

First of all, let's look at my own prediction. It's true that so far the team is tracking a little bit under my initial prediction, as shown in the figure at the end of this post. But don't forget that I have tended (in the past) to be pessimistic about Canada's chances. And even according to my prediction, after the results of day 5 our chances of reaching 30 medals or more has decreased from about 25% to about 9%. A couple of days of winning two medals per day would recover essentially all of what's been "lost."

Second, let's look at some of the other predictions that were made before the Games. As previously noted, the Associated Press predicted that Canada would win 30 medals, and that they would have won 7 by the end of day 5. So we're only "down" by one on that front. Sports Illustrated also predicted 30 medals, but only six by the end of day 5, so we're even on that one. And the Canadian Press predicted a ridiculous 37 medals for Canada — remember that nobody won more than 29 in Torino — so the fact that we're "only" at six compared to the 10 predicted by Day 5 is not that disturbing.

In short, there are still lots of ways that Team Canada can get to 30 medals. I don't know for sure if that will be enough. As I said above, the US team is lapping the field at the moment. In Torino they "only" won 25 medals and they are going to have more than 15 medals after Day 6 this time. But I can say that Canadian experts fully expected to get their biggest medal surge in the last few days of the games.

Sport Event Athlete Category Result Impact
Initial Prediction         27.05
Day 1         -0.75
Day 2         +0.45
Day 3         -0.50
Day 4         +0.00
Alpine Ski Downhill - W Brydon, Emily Possibility 16th -0.35
Alpine Ski Downhill - W Janyk, Britt Outside 6th -0.10
Speed Skating - ST 500 m - W Roberge, Kalyna Strong 6th -0.65
Speed Skating - ST 500 m - W Gregg, Jessica Outside 4th -0.10
Speed Skating - ST 500 m - W St. Gelais, Marianne Outside SILVER +0.90
Speed Skating - LT 1,000 m - M Morrison, Dennis Outside 13th -0.10
Cross Country Ski Sprint - W Renner, Sara Outside 34th -0.10
Cross Country Ski Sprint - W Crawford, Chandra Outside 26th -0.10
Snowboard Halfpipe - M Lamoureux, Justin Outside 7th -0.10
Day 5         -0.70
Current         25.55

February 16, 2010

2010 Olympics Day 4

Svein Tuft of the Day for Day 4: JP Le Guellec

It was a bit tricky to find an unnoticed noteworthy performance today, but in the end I had to give it to Jean Philippe Le Guellec for the second time.

I didn't see any of it, but it sounds like Le Guellec had a very weird day. He officially finished eleventh — a very respectable finish on its face. But in fact, Le Guellec was fifth to cross the finish line. As I discussed on Sunday, Le Guellec was supposed to be the sixth athlete to leave the start line in today's 12.5 km pursuit. Instead, due to a starter's mistake, he left fifth, about 30 seconds before he was supposed to. He crossed the finish line in fifth place, but after a post-race adjustment to correct for the error, he ended up eleventh.

"The guys just let me out too soon. Why, I don’t know," said LeGuellec, 24, of Quebec City. "I was just like, well, if worse comes to worse I’ll be disqualified or there’ll be a time adjustment. Whatever, do your race, have fun and that’s what happened."

After 2.5 kilometres and five-out-of-five shooting, LeGuellec appeared to be in second place. But his coaches were scrambling to make sure he knew he really wasn’t, that 30 seconds had to be added to his score. At the end of the race, with a decent 18-for-20 shooting, LeGuellec seemed solid for fifth, with no one in his sights behind him. He slowed down at the end to acknowledge the boisterous crowd.

But when he crossed the finish line and organizers added the 30 seconds to his time, he dropped to 11th.

"I am upset," said LeGuellec. "I came in fifth and I’m 11th. There’s nothing much we can do, it’s done."

LeGuellec forgave the official who let him go early. "You can’t blame the guy. With the hype of the Olympics and everything, there’s things that can happen," said LeGuellec.

Jean Philippe gets extra credit for handling the offical's error with such equanimity.

Medal Prediction

Nothing much happened to my medal prediction today. Maëlle Ricker's gold medal gave my prediction a boost of 0.35, but Dominique Maltais' fall took it away. My prediction still stands at 26.25 medals (the update table is at the end of this post).

Since there's nothing that interesting to report about my prediction today, I thought I might look at progress so far in a different (and more optimistic) way. As I noted in my original prediction, there were three major media organizations that also made medal predictions on an event-by-event basis. How are they doing so far at predicting Canada's results?

The Associated Press predicted 30 medals for Canada. They were wrong about Charles Hamelin in the short track 1500 m, wrong about Manuel Osborne-Paradis in the alpine downhill, and wrong about Dominique Maltais in women's snowboardcross. They also missed Kristina Groves in the long track 3000 m, and Mike Robertson in the men's snowboardcross. So the AP predicted that Canada would have six medals by now, an overestimate of one.

Sports Illustrated also predicted 30 medals, and was also wrong about Osborne-Paradis. They also missed Mike Robertson, and Alexandre Bilodeau. So SI predicted that Canada would have four medals so far, an underestimate of one.

The Canadian Press predicted the astonishingly high total of 37 medals for Canada. They were wrong about Hamelin, Osborne-Paradis, and Maltais. They missed Mike Robertson, too. The CP predicted that Canada would have seven medals so far, an overestimate of two.

Sport Event Athlete Category Result Impact
Initial Prediction         27.05
Day 1         -0.75
Day 2         +0.45
Day 3         -0.50
Snowboard Snowboardcross - W Ricker, Maëlle Strong GOLD +0.35
Snowboard Snowboardcross - W Maltais, Dominique Possibility 20th -0.35
Day 4         +0.00
Current         26.25

February 15, 2010

2010 Olympics Day 3

Svein Tuft of the Day for Day 3: Ivan Babikov

My pick for Team Canada's unnoticed noteworthy performance of the day is cross-country skier Ivan Babikov.

Babikov finished eighth in the men's 15 km free this morning. He was eighteen seconds (in a thirty-three minute race) behind the bronze medallist. Canada's previous best result in the 15 km event was a fourteenth place by Pierre Harvey in 1988.

Harvey's son, twenty-one-year-old Alex Harvey, finished 21st in his first Olympic start.

Medal Prediction Update

I had a few complete misses in today's results — the first of these Games. I had pegged Rob Fagan as having an outside chance at a medal in snowboard cross, but I had not identified Mike Robertson, today's silver medalist. A few more of those surprises will probably have to happen over the next two weeks if Canada is going to get to the top of the medal table.

Conversely, I had picked Devon Kershaw with an outside chance at a medal in the men's 15 km cross country race. It appears that he didn't enter the event. Oops.

I had picked the men's downhill as a strong medal chance for Canada, and the pairs figure skating as a possibility. So despite Robertson's great result, my predicted total has gone down again today.

As a brief editorial comment, I should say that I loved watching the snowboard cross today. The course seemed to be set up to enable lots of passing and lead changes, unlike what I remember from Torino. I was on the edge of my seat through every round.

Canada's great medal chance for Day 4 is in women's snowboard cross. Of course, if today proved anything, it's that anything can happen in snowboard cross. It should be exciting!

Sport Event Athlete Category Result Impact
Initial Prediction         27.05
Day 1         -0.75
Day 2         +0.45
Alpine Ski Downhill - M Osborn-Paradis, Manual Strong 17th -0.65
Alpine Ski Downhill - M Guay, Erik Outside 5th -0.10
Alpine Ski Downhill - M Dixon, Robbie Outside 60th -0.10
Cross Country Ski 15 km Free - M Kershaw, Devon Outside DNS -0.10
Snowboard Snowboard Cross - M Robertson, Mike None SILVER +1.00
Snowboard Snowboard Cross - M Fagan, Rob Outside 5th -0.10
Speedskating - LT 500 m - M Gregg, Jamie Outside 8th -0.10
Figure Skating Pairs Davison and Dubé Possibility 6th -0.35
Day 3         -0.50
Current         26.25

February 14, 2010

2010 Olympics Day 2

Svein Tuft for Day 2: Jean Philippe Le Guellec

Jean Philippe Le Guellec, ranked 33rd in the World Cup sprint standings in biathlon, finished sixth in today's 10 km sprint event. The previous best-ever for Canada at the Olympics was an eighth-place finish by Steve Cyr in 1992.

It seems that Le Guellec was considerably smarter about his chances in this event than most of the pundits. Here's his take on the Whistler course, taken from an interview in the Province that ran this morning:

Just the trail here and the whole way the system is set up is that anything can happen. When you look at results, even on the World Cup, you can see the top 60 athletes and if three-quarters had shot one more target, they'd be on the podium or in the top 10. It's that drastic.

Le Guellec missed one of ten targets today. The order of finish in the sprint now determines the start order and interval in the 12.5 km pursuit event, which runs on Tuesday. In the pursuit event, racers are assigned staggered start times — in this case, based on the results of today's sprint — and the first competitor past the finish line is the winner. If you've never seen this, its very dramatic. Le Guellec will start in sixth position, 50 seconds behind the leader. Many of the event's biggest names will be starting behind him.

Honourable Mention: Sam Edney

When I first heard about Jean Philippe Le Guellec's result today, I thought the Svein Tuft for today would be a no-brainer. But luger Sam Edney had a great day, too.

Edney was 11th after run 1, 10th after run 2, and 8th after run 3. On run 4, he had the third-best time, behind only the powerhouse Germans, to vault into seventh place. That's a best-ever Olympic result for Canada in men's luge.

Medal Prediction

Of course Canada had a good day today overall. Kristina Groves picked up a bronze medal in the women's 3,000 m, and Clara Hughes finished 5th. And it was a super night at Cypress, with Alexandre Bilodeau winning Canada's first gold medal of these Games — or of any "home" Olympic games. Joining Bilodeau in the top 5 were Vincent Marquis and Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau, who were sitting 1-2 with four skiers to go.

The medal prediction has shifted upward since yesterday, and is still down slightly overall. The data are in the table and figure below.

Sport Event Athlete Category Result Impact
Initial Prediction         27.05
Day 1         -0.75
Freestyle Ski Moguls - M Bilodeau, Alexandre Strong GOLD +0.35
Freestyle Ski Moguls - M Marquis, Vincent Possibility 4th -0.35
Freestyle Ski Moguls - M Rousseau, Pierre-Alexandre Outside 5th -0.10
Speed Skating - LT 3,000m - W Groves, Kristina Possibility BRONZE +0.65
Speed Skating - LT 3,000m - W Hughes, Clara Outside 5th -0.10
Day 2         +0.45
Current         26.75

Svein Tuft of the Day - Day 1

I've decided, inspired by my friends who are with the Canadian team in Vancouver and Whistler, to take a daily detour from obsessing about math and medal counts. Welcome to the first installment of the Team Canada Svein Tuft of the Day.

I know that some of you are thinking, "What the hell is a Svein Tuft?" Well, if you're a Canadian sports fan, you should already know that, but you probably don't. I can only change that situation for the few of you who read this blog, but I'm going to do my best.

Let me go back in time to day 5 of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. For 2008, the Canadian team had set a goal of finishing in the Top 16 countries as measured by total number of medals won. By Day 5, no Canadian had won a medal, and the Canadian media had started to mention that fact prominently in almost every team story.

Svein Tuft was a member of Canada's Olympic road cycling team, competing on Day 5 in the Men's Road Time Trial. The Canadian men's cycling team is a relatively unheralded group, especially in the road discipline, which includes many of Europe's highest-profile athletes. Tuft had an early start number in Beijing. He posted the fastest time and was the leader of the race for most of the event, as he watched the best in the world fail to beat him. He eventually finished seventh, just ahead of three-time world champion Michael Rogers. (Tuft later won a silver medal in the same event at the 2008 World Championships.)

Tuft's achievement, in a time where Canadians were searching for positive Olympic stories, deserved a celebration. Unfortunately, he didn't get it. A couple of hours after the road time trial finished, Sherraine Schalm was eliminated in the first round of an event where she was expected to contend for a medal. Even better for the media, the elimination came with more than a little spectacle. Tuft, who was on his way to a CBC television interview when the Schalm story broke, never had a chance.

Canada went two more days without a medal, and our team spirit survived the negative press; eventually Canada won 18 medals, our best Summer Games total since 1996, and good enough (so far) for thirteenth place. In case you think I'm exaggerating about the media coverage from Beijing, note the following quote from that CanWest News story about Schalm's result:

The latest Canadian to fail to live up to expectations in Beijing, Schalm indicated she'd be able to tune out the criticism about to coming the way of her and other athletes who've come up short here.

I think we're in danger of entering a similar time period in the 2010 Olympic games. Last night, Jennifer Heil won Canada's first medal, but we all know that Jennifer Heil was hoping for gold. And Canada has very high expectations this year, at home, so every setback is going to be examined with even more angst than usual. When we're all concentrating on the podium, it's easy for each day's small successes to get lost. For what it's worth, I'm going to do my small part to make sure that doesn't happen.

I want to finish this introduction by making a couple of things clear. First of all, I'm a big supporter of the Own the Podium program. I think it's important to say, out loud, what you want to achieve. I don't believe it is somehow un-Canadian to want to win.

Second, the Svein Tuft of the Day is not going to be about celebrating mediocrity. I don't believe that the Olympic spirit is best exemplified by the overmatched or the underprepared. Svein Tuft was a great Canadian athlete who had a great day on the world's biggest stage. That day didn't include a medal, but it should have been noticed. Maybe Randy Starkman put it best, when he challenged us all:

Are you really behind this unique group of athletes about to lay it on the line? Or are you only behind them gold, silver or bronze?

This year, I'm getting behind the team from the comfort of my couch, and I'll be cheering loudly for all the medallists; but I'm also going to do my best to notice the unnoticed victories each day.

February 13: Chloe Dufour-Laplante

The women's moguls competition at Cypress last night — held in atrociously bad weather conditions — was full of successes for Canada. Jennifer Heil skied well and was narrowly beaten by a great performance. Kristi Richards reached for the medal that was within her grasp, and just crossed over the edge.

If you're Canadian and you've been reading about the 2010 Olympics this morning, you've heard all about Heil. But my Svein Tuft for Saturday is Canada's third qualifier for the women's moguls final, Chloe Dufour-Laplante. Dufour-Laplante entered the Olympics ranked eleventh in the 2010 World Cup and third on her own team. She placed ninth in qualification.

In the final, she was dazzling. She finished fifth.

I just can't realize it right now, I'm so full of emotion. I did amazing and I'm so happy. It was really a good long way to come here.

Dufour-Lapointe, who lists Jennifer Heil as one of her heros, has earned one World Cup medal in her career, and none this season. She will turn 19 in December.

February 13, 2010

2010 Olympics Day 1

I don't have a lot of editorial comment to make about Day 1 of the 2010 Winter Olympics. I watched a lot of it on television, I followed team media announcements on Twitter, and I enjoyed myself. There was a great variety of stuff going on, covering many of my favourite Winter Olympic things.

Canada didn't have a great day, but it wasn't terrible either. Jennifer Heil won a medal in moguls, which will unfortunately fall into the disappointed-not-to-get-the-gold category. Our short track speed skating team didn't win a medal in the men's 1500 m, along the way making a pretty good case for the usefulness of a statistical approach to prediction. Charles Hamelin, considered a very strong contender, ended up in the same semifinal with the eventual gold and silver medalists and failed to advance to the final. Olivier Jean, who I gave an outside chance at a medal, was "advanced" to the final after a crash, and ended up fourth.

Those events have had a detrimental effect on my medal prediction, but not an unrecoverable one. Overall the mean of my predicted medal total has decreased from 27.05 to 26.30, with a small decrease in the standard deviation. The prediction is also impacted by the delay of the men's downhill until Monday.

Sport Event Athlete Category Result Impact
Freestyle Ski Moguls - W Heil, Jennifer Lock SILVER +0.10
Freestyle Ski Moguls - W Richards, Kristi Outside 20th -0.10
Speed Skating - ST 1,500m - M Hamelin, Charles Strong 8th -0.65
Speed Skating - ST 1,500m - M Jean, Olivier Outside 4th -0.10
TOTAL         -0.75

You can see from the figure below that I am predicting Canada will bring in a steady 1-2 medals per day until Day 9.

February 12, 2010

With Glowing Heart

Call me old-fashioned, but the thing I like most about the Olympic Games is the sports.

I am not a big fan of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. I usually find the two-week television extravaganza more frustrating than illuminating. And I try not to get caught up in the predictable angst over Canada's team uniforms.

I do believe that the Olympic Games are the greatest sporting event in the world, and I do love some of the "moments" that come along with it. And I've been lucky enough to witness some of those moments in two different Olympics — in fact, I've probably had more than my fair share of the Olympic experience.

One of my favourite instants of every Olympics is the lighting of the Olympic flame. For the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, that moment is only a few hours away. And way back on November 16, I had the opportunity to run in the Olympic torch relay.

As the torch relay reaches its "triumphant conclusion," the focus inevitably turns to a chorus of you-cant-be-serious and how-could-they-forget. And of course tonight there's lots of speculation about who will be the final torchbearer.

But my experience back on November 16 was very different, and it is one I won't forget. That Monday was not a good day; it started with layoffs at work, followed by a three-and-a-half hour drive to Mabou. My seven-year-old son was recovering from the flu. My wife was sick too.

My segment of the run was a short stretch of the Ceilidh Trail in Mabou, Nova Scotia. I started, as indicated on my instructions, by the 50 km/h sign on highway 19, which was dutifully marked with my torchbearer number. You could charitably call this the "outskirts" of Mabou, if Mabou was big enough to have outskirts. I was not, however, alone.

The finish line was 300 metres down a gentle slope, in front of the gas station and across the highway from the Mull Cafe and Deli. At that location I passed the flame to the next man in line. And all along the dark road, the people of rural Cape Breton had come out to cheer us on.

It was a small crowd, to be sure; a far cry from the Beijing Opening Ceremony, or even the grandstand at Lake Lanier. But in some ways, this experience was better.

There are a lot of Olympic moments that make athletes feel special. I have had more than my fair share of those, for an athlete that never reached the podium. It's a great reward to feel like you are appreciated for your efforts; to have people stand up and cheer for you, even if you are only one of a large crowd. I still get a small thrill from telling people that I competed in the Olympic Games.

But that night, nobody came to cheer for me, or for any of the other runners. Nobody even knew our names. They came out to cheer on the Olympic flame as it passed through their town. Those of us who carried the flame for them that night were simply part of their celebration, stretching from Syndey to Port Hawkesbury through many small towns in between.

I don't think I have ever felt so Canadian.

Tonight, this torchbearer — joined, I suppose, by most of those cheering fans I met on the roadside in Mabou — is back on the couch in front of the TV, where I'll be for a lot of the next 16 days. But when that flame is lit in BC Place, and the Olympics begin, I'll be proud to remember that we were all part of the journey.

February 10, 2010

Amateur Medal Prediction for 2010

If I was a journalist writing for a newspaper or sports magazine, I'd have to open this story like this: Canada will win 27 medals at the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics.

The nice thing about that kind of prediction is that it's easy to encapsulate the result in a single sentence. The bad thing is that the single number '27' doesn't really tell the whole story.

Back in 2006, you'll recall, I took a different approach at predicting Canada's medal haul. I predicted that Canada would win 21±3 medals at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino. Canada ended up winning 24 medals, overshooting my predicted total but well within my assessment of the uncertainty.

I repeated the exercise for Beijing in 2008, but didn't publish my prediction since I was using the Canadian Olympic Committee's internal assessment of our athletes. The results were actually quite similar. My pre-games prediction was for 15.5±2.5 medals, and the final total was 18.

The "±" part of my predictions comes from the statistical approach. To predict the total number of medals, I first assign each Canadian entry a probability of winning a medal in their event. Through some fairly straightforward math, that leads to a probability distribution for all the possible medal totals for Canada. The only parameters you can fiddle with are the medal probabilities you assign to each Canadian entry up front.

I've done the same thing for the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics. I put Canadian entries into one of five probability categories: "Lock" (90% chance); "Strong Possibility" (65% chance); "Possibility" (35% chance); "Outside Possibility" (10% chance); and "No Possibility" (0% chance). I should comment at this point that for 2010 I do not have access to any COC evaluation of the team — I'm back in my armchair for these games. My assessment comes from a few days of looking over World Cup and World Championship standings and results from 2010. So in detail, the probabilities are only as good as my abilities as an analytical winter sports fan, and its probable that I've missed some things. Past evidence also suggests that I tend to have a pessimistic bias against Canada's chances, so my probability assessments may be too low.

My probability assessments are presented in the table at the end of this post. The table identifies the day of each event, the sport, the event, and the athlete, with my medal category and the corresponding probability for that event. (I have left the "No Possibility" entries out of the table.) I have also included the predictions that three major media outlets have released in the last couple of weeks. The Associated Press (AP) and Sports Illustrated (SI) have predicted all the medal winners in every event, and the Canadian Press (CP) has predicted all the Canadian medals. The Associated Press and Sports Illustrated both predict 30 Canadian medals, and the Canadian Press predicts 37.

It is clear that my (independent) assessment of the medal probability lines up qualitatively with the three media predictions, although there are some quantitative differences. The Canadian Press, for example, predicts that every single one of the "Strong Possibilty" Canadian medalists will actually win a medal.

With the probability values above, I can calculate a probability distribution for the total number of medals Canada will have won after each day of competition, including the final total after Day 16. The results are shown in the figure below.

The left-hand plot in this figure shows my prediction (today) of how Canada's medal total will evolve over the 16 days of the Games, assuming all events go as scheduled. The image shows the probability distribution, and the green lines show the mean and standard deviation of the probability distribution. The right-hand plot shows the full probability distribution for the medal count at the end of the games.

If I had to encapsulate this picture with a single number, I would have to say … 27. But I don't have to do that, so let's put it this way: the most likely total number of medals for Canada, assuming that my characterization of individual probabilities is not biased in one direction or the other, is 27. The probability that Canada will win between 24 and 31 medals is about 75%. The probability that Canada will win 30 or more medals is about 24%.

One of the reasons to be especially interested in Canada's medal total this year is that the COC has a well-publicized goal for its athletes to win more medals in 2010 than those of any other National Olympic Committee. On the face of it, my prediction makes that unlikely; it will probably take at least 30 medals to finish atop the medal table, and I am putting that at three-to-one odds. But then again, I've got a history of getting that wrong.

I'll plan to update my prediction after each day of competition, and post thoughts about the Games here as well.

Day Sport Event Athlete Athlete Probability AP SI CP
1 Freestyle Ski Moguls - W Heil, Jennifer Lock 0.90 GOLD GOLD GOLD
6 Speed Skating - LT 1,000m - W Nesbitt, Christine Lock 0.90 GOLD GOLD GOLD
9 Speed Skating - LT 1,500m - W Nesbitt, Christine Lock 0.90 GOLD GOLD GOLD
13 Ice Hockey Ice Hockey - W Team Lock 0.90 GOLD GOLD GOLD
15 Speed Skating - LT Pursuit - W Groves, Klassen, Nesbitt, Schussler Lock 0.90 GOLD GOLD GOLD
1 Alpine Ski Downhill - M Osborne-Paradis, Manuel Strong 0.65 GOLD SILVER SILVER
1 Speed Skating - ST 1,500m - M Hamelin, Charles Strong 0.65 SILVER   BRONZE
2 Freestyle Ski Moguls - M Bilodeau, Alexandre Strong 0.65 GOLD   BRONZE
4 Snowboard Snowboardcross - W Ricker, Maëlle Strong 0.65 BRONZE GOLD GOLD
5 Speed Skating - ST 500m - W Roberge, Kalyna Strong 0.65 SILVER SILVER SILVER
7 Skeleton Skeleton - W Hollingsworth, Mellisa Strong 0.65 GOLD SILVER GOLD
8 Speed Skating - ST 1,000m - M Hamelin, Charles Strong 0.65   BRONZE SILVER
9 Speed Skating - LT 1,500m - W Groves, Kristina Strong 0.65 SILVER SILVER SILVER
9 Freestyle Ski Ski Cross - M Del Bosco, Christopher Strong 0.65 SILVER SILVER GOLD
10 Figure Skating Dance - Mixed Moir, Virtue Strong 0.65 BRONZE SILVER SILVER
11 Freestyle Ski Ski Cross - W McIvor, Ashleigh Strong 0.65 GOLD SILVER SILVER
12 Bobsleigh Two-Man - W Humphries (Pilot) Strong 0.65   BRONZE SILVER
12 Speed Skating - ST 3,000m Relay - W Gregg, Maltais, Roberge, St.Gelais, Vicent Strong 0.65 BRONZE BRONZE BRONZE
14 Curling Team - W Bartel, Bernard, McRorie, Moore, O'Connor Strong 0.65 GOLD GOLD BRONZE
14 Speed Skating - ST 5,000m Relay - M Bastille, Hamelin, Hamelin, Jean, Tremblay Strong 0.65 SILVER SILVER GOLD
14 Speed Skating - ST 500m - M Hamelin, Charles Strong 0.65 GOLD GOLD GOLD
15 Curling Team - M Enright, Hebert, Kennedy, Martin, Morris Strong 0.65 GOLD SILVER GOLD
15 Snowboard Parallel Giant Slalom - M Anderson, Jasey-Jay Strong 0.65 GOLD GOLD SILVER
16 Ice Hockey Ice Hockey - M Team Strong 0.65 SILVER GOLD SILVER
2 Freestyle Ski Moguls - M Marquis, Vincent Possibility 0.35      
2 Speed Skating - LT 3,000m - W Groves, Kristina Possibility 0.35   BRONZE BRONZE
3 Figure Skating Pairs - Mixed Davison, Dubé Possibility 0.35      
4 Snowboard Snowboardcross - W Maltais, Dominique Possibility 0.35 GOLD   SILVER
5 Alpine Ski Downhill - W Brydon, Emily Possibility 0.35     BRONZE
6 Figure Skating Singles - M Chan, Patrick Possibility 0.35 BRONZE SILVER BRONZE
7 Alpine Ski Super G - M Guay, Erik Possibility 0.35      
7 Skeleton Skeleton - M Montgomery, Jon Possibility 0.35 GOLD BRONZE SILVER
8 Speed Skating - LT 1,500m - M Morrison, Dennis Possibility 0.35 SILVER SILVER BRONZE
8 Speed Skating - ST 1,000m - M Hamelin, Francois Possibility 0.35      
9 Bobsleigh Two-Man - M Rush (Pilot) Possibility 0.35     BRONZE
11 Freestyle Ski Ski Cross - W Serwa, Kelsey Possibility 0.35   BRONZE BRONZE
12 Bobsleigh Two-Man - W Upperton (Pilot) Possibility 0.35 BRONZE    
12 Speed Skating - LT 5,000m - W Hughes, Clara Possibility 0.35     BRONZE
13 Figure Skating Singles - W Rochette, Joannie Possibility 0.35   BRONZE BRONZE
14 Speed Skating - ST 500m - M Tremblay, François-Louis Possibility 0.35 BRONZE   BRONZE
15 Snowboard Parallel Giant Slalom - M Lambert, Michael Possibility 0.35      
15 Speed Skating - LT Pursuit - M Giroux, Makowsky, Morrison, Parrot (Turgeon) Possibility 0.35 BRONZE BRONZE BRONZE
1 Alpine Ski Downhill - M Dixon, Robbie Outside 0.10      
1 Alpine Ski Downhill - M Guay, Erik Outside 0.10      
1 Freestyle Ski Moguls - W Richards, Kristi Outside 0.10      
1 Speed Skating - ST 1,500m - M Jean, Olivier Outside 0.10      
2 Alpine Ski Super Combined - W Brydon, Emily Outside 0.10      
2 Freestyle Ski Moguls - M Rousseau, Pierre-Alexandre Outside 0.10      
2 Speed Skating - LT 3,000m - W Hughes, Clara Outside 0.10      
3 Cross-Country Ski 15km Free - M Kershaw, Devon Outside 0.10      
3 Snowboard Snowboardcross - M Fagan, Rob Outside 0.10      
3 Speed Skating - LT 500m - M Gregg, Jamie Outside 0.10      
5 Alpine Ski Downhill - W Janyk, Britt Outside 0.10      
5 Cross-Country Ski Sprint (Classic) - W Crawford, Chandra Outside 0.10      
5 Cross-Country Ski Sprint (Classic) - W Renner, Sara Outside 0.10      
5 Snowboard Half Pipe - M Lamoureux, Justin Outside 0.10      
5 Speed Skating - LT 1,000m - M Morrison, Dennis Outside 0.10   BRONZE BRONZE
5 Speed Skating - ST 500m - W Gregg, Jessica Outside 0.10      
5 Speed Skating - ST 500m - W St.Gelais, Marianne Outside 0.10      
6 Snowboard Half Pipe - W Nicoll, Mercedes Outside 0.10      
6 Speed Skating - LT 1,000m - W Groves, Kristina Outside 0.10      
7 Alpine Ski Super G - M Dixon, Robbie Outside 0.10      
7 Alpine Ski Super G - M Osborne-Paradis, Manuel Outside 0.10      
7 Skeleton Skeleton - M Pain, Jeff Outside 0.10      
8 Alpine Ski Super G - W Janyk, Britt Outside 0.10      
8 Speed Skating - LT 1,500m - M Makowsky, Lucas Outside 0.10      
8 Speed Skating - ST 1,500m - W Maltais, Valérie Outside 0.10      
9 Freestyle Ski Ski Cross - M Duncan, David Outside 0.10      
9 Freestyle Ski Ski Cross - M Hayer, Stanley Outside 0.10      
9 Speed Skating - LT 1,500m - W Schussler, Brittany Outside 0.10      
10 Cross-Country Ski Team Sprint - W Gaiazova, Renner, Webster Outside 0.10      
11 Freestyle Ski Ski Cross - W Murray, Julia Outside 0.10      
12 Cross-Country Ski 4 x 10km Relay - M Goldsack, Jewett, McMurtry (??) Outside 0.10      
12 Speed Skating - LT 5,000m - W Groves, Kristina Outside 0.10 SILVER    
13 Freestyle Ski Aerials - M Omischl, Steve Outside 0.10      
13 Freestyle Ski Aerials - M Shouldice, Warren Outside 0.10      
14 Snowboard Parallel Giant Slalom - W Loo, Alexa Outside 0.10      
14 Speed Skating - ST 1,000m - W Roberge, Kalyna Outside 0.10      
15 Alpine Ski Slalom - M Cousineau, Julien Outside 0.10      
15 Alpine Ski Slalom - M Janyk, Michael Outside 0.10      
15 Bobsleigh Four-Man - M Rush (Pilot) Outside 0.10