20 March 2012

Olympic medals expert makes his 2012 London Games predictions@Universal Sports

A Colorado College economist who has predicted Olympic medals with a 93 percent accuracy rate over six consecutive Olympic Games has made his predictions for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. He uses a model that, surprisingly, does not include athletic ability as one of its factors.

Daniel K.N. Johnson, a professor of economics at Colorado College, predicts that the U.S. will top the podium most often, followed by China, second, and Russia, third, with the host country, Great Britain, placing fourth.

Johnson's model of Olympic success has shown uncanny accuracy time and again. He first constructed the model with an undergraduate student co-author before the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia. Since then, the model has proven itself over six consecutive Olympics, averaging a correlation of 93 percent with actual medal counts, and 85 percent for gold medals specifically. This year, Johnson re-calibrated the model, with the assistance of another undergraduate student, Rafael Alonso-Arenas. It now matches 60 years of historical data with a correlation of 96 percent for all medals, and 95 percent for gold medals

Surprisingly, Johnson's model uses only non-athletic data to make forecasts--- per capita income, population and the advantage of hosting the Games (or of living nearby). In the past, the formula also included political structure and climate, but the team discarded those characteristics this year in favor of two different attributes-a host nation advantage that pre-dates and post-dates the Games actually hosted, and a "cultural specific factor" that helps to correct the model's historical under-predictions for nations like Australia and China.

Johnson treats the model's predictions as ‘benchmarks' to help set national expectations at realistic levels. "We all have expectations about how our own nation, or other nations, will perform so we attempt to quantify those expectations, so that each nation can celebrate victory if they exceed the model's predictions. For a small nation, winning three medals is an amazing accomplishment. For the U.S. or Germany or Russia, it's appropriate to expect a lot more," he said. "How much more? That's where the model comes in."

As a Canadian-born economist, Johnson is not a sports enthusiast, and in fact focuses on the economics of innovation and technological change. However, he is a self-proclaimed Olymp-ophile, always hoping that his model will be dramatically incorrect.

"The Olympics are a celebration of the exceptional," he says, "and the fact that an economic model can predict medal counts so accurately simply points to the fact that there are underlying patterns that favor certain nations over others. I watch for excellence, wherever it occurs, and I cheer most loudly where it is unpredicted."

During the last Summer Games, in Beijing in 2008, Johnson's model forecast that the U.S. would top the medal count, and it did, winning 110 medals (seven more than predicted). He also correctly predicted that China would top the gold medal count, and it did, winning 51 gold medals (seven more than predicted). During the last Winter Games, in Vancouver in 2010, the model predicted 27 medals for Canada (they won 26 instead), but the American and German teams both vastly outperformed expectations and topped the podium more often.

Historical precision for the Summer Games has been equally startling. Before the 2004 Athens Olympics, Johnson predicted the U.S. team would win 103 medals, including 37 gold; the U.S. team won precisely 103 with 35 gold. He said Russia would win 94 medals; it won 92. For the 2000 Sydney games, he predicted 90 medals for the U.S., with 33 gold. The Americans won 97, with 39 gold. For Australia, the host, he predicted 54 medals. Australia won 56.

Johnson's paper, "A Tale of Two Seasons: Participation and Medal Counts at the Summer and Winter Olympics," was written in 1999 with Ayfer Ali while she was an undergraduate student and Johnson was on sabbatical at Harvard University. It was published in Social Science Quarterly in December 2004. Since then, Johnson has collaborated with students at Colorado College to make Olympic predictions based on that original model. This year, they decided to re-calibrate the model as well.

Johnson is the Gerald L. Schlessman Professor of Economics at Colorado College - located a stone's throw from the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs. But if Johnson has his choice, he will be in London during the Games.

Johnson received his Bachelor of Social Science degree in Economics from the University of Ottawa in 1991; his Master's degree in Economics from the London School of Economics in 1992; and his Ph.D. in Economics from Yale University in 1998. He has been a professor at Colorado College since 2004, teaching and researching public policy and the economics of technological change.

This year, Johnson decided to report predictions for all 130 nations with available data. A full table of predictions is attached, in alphabetical order by nation, and a second table ranks all nations predicted to win five or more medals, in the standard Olympic order (ranked by gold medals first, then by total medal count).


15 March 2012

British Athletes Use Video to Run Faster, Jump Higher at Games@bloomberg

British athletes are turning to the biggest-ever Olympic video analysis project to improve their performance in between heats at this year’s Games in London.

The British Olympic Association will use live video footage from the venues to analyze athletes’ performances and movement in competition during the Games, which start July 27. The video feed, which costs 120,000 pounds ($191,000), will be sent to Team GB House, located just outside of the Olympic Park at the Stratford Westfield shopping center.

The captured footage will be fed into software produced by Dartfish, a Fribourg, Switzerland-based company that’s used by dozens of sports organizations and governing bodies as well as elite athletes including Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt. The British team is the only team to have minute-by-minute live access to the Olympic Broadcasting Services feed during the Games, said Dave Reddin, director of performance services at the BOA and a former England rugby player.

“From our point of view, there is very little home advantage,” at the London Games, Reddin said. “There are no extra seats, there are no extra privileges for Team GB. Hence we need to try and think more creatively about how we make the best of what we’ve got. And I think this will help us.”

As many as six analysts from the English Institute of Sport will be at Team GB House for up to 20 hours a day to help capture relevant video and provide analysis on athletes or scout the opposition in team sports such as basketball so the coaches can make the necessary adjustments.

“Coaches can only recall 30 percent of what they see, so that means 70 percent of the information isn’t used,” said Stafford Murray, head of performance analysis and biomechanics at the English Institute of Sport.

It’s the first time privately-held Dartfish, which was founded in 1998, will be delivering such a large project during an Olympic Games, Victor Bergonzoli, co-founder and chief executive officer, said in an interview.

“The goal is to get real-time feeds as quickly as possible into the hands of the coaches and athletes,” Bergonzoli said. During a soccer match for example, Dartfish will be able to tag all the passes not ending with a shot on goal, and send those clips to the coaches’ handheld devices such as iPads or tablets immediately after the game for analysis.

13 March 2012

One Year after, Japan Unites via Power of Sports@around the rings

Hundreds of representatives from Japan’s sports community and thousands of well-wishers joined some 200 young children from the northern part of Japan for a sports festival in Tokyo to mark the first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. This demonstration of the power of sports to unite and energeise a nation is one of the core values of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic bid.

Participants in the 3/11 Memorial ‘Kizuna’ Walk and Run included schoolchildren and young athletes from the affected area, who spent an unforgettable day meeting sports heroes and participating in games including football and rugby. Thrilled to receive personal instruction from former and current athletes, the young participants drew strength from the powerful medium of sport and the bonds (kizuna) of fellowship.

Tokyo 2020 President and Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda said: “On behalf of the Japanese sports community, we sincerely appreciate the generous, heartfelt support and encouragement from friends worldwide as Japan strives to recover from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Japanese athletes and the sports community also have made great efforts to support the healing process. Events such as this embody our shared desire to give strength to those most affected. This same belief in the power of sports underpins Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

A 5km walk was led by Akio Usami, a three-time consecutive Marathon Olympian, who said: “It was a real pleasure to participate in the event and coach young people from the affected area. The strong bonds I felt with everyone reminded me of sport’s capacity to bring the world together. I sincerely hope we helped to energeise everyone and give them new hope.”

The event, which also raised donations for schools and an orphanage association, took place at Shiokaze Park, the planned venue for Beach Volleyball during the Tokyo 2020 Games. As one of the 16 venues in the bid’s Tokyo Bay Zone, the park offers impressive views of the waterfront, Rainbow Bridge and the skyline of the world’s most sophisticated urban metropolis.

Added Takeda: “The ‘kizuna’ event showcases sport’s capacity to inspire dreams, hopes, goals and positive change. Tokyo’s bid has extra significance as a spiritual and physical symbol of Japan’s recovery from a national tragedy. We have a great sense of responsibility to inspire and unite the entire population behind a common vision of Japan’s future. It is a bold national project to help us realise a better future by setting no limits and striving for excellence, as taught by the Olympic values.”

The Japanese sports community also is managing an ambitious five-year project to send Olympians and Paralympians to the affected area to inspire the area’s youth. The Sports Kokoro Project (www.sports-kokoro.jp) will visit 542 schools, aiming to put smiles on the faces of some 46,000 schoolchildren and fill their hearts (kokoro) with joy.

For more information, contact: pressoffice@tokyo2020.jp

12 March 2012

UK TID programme outcomes

Olympic 'best is yet to come' from Team GB, says talent head Warr@BBC

The head of Great Britain's Olympic talent factory believes the team could win more medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016 than at this summer's Games in London.

Team GB won 47 medals at the 2008 Games in Beijing, the best return for a century, and that was good enough for fourth in the medal table.

That is also the target for London, albeit with more medals in more sports, but UK Sport, the agency that funds British Olympic sport, is confident Rio will be "even better".

"We can definitely expect more," said UK Sport's head of athlete development Chelsea Warr.

"The progress Team GB has made since world-class funding came in will be showcased in London, but the most interesting thing for me is that the best is yet to come.

"I think 2016 will be the real test, especially for the development programmes that underpin that success."

Sporting Giants

Warr was speaking to the BBC five years after the launch of Sporting Giants, an X Factor meets Superstars recruitment drive for handball, rowing and volleyball, three "tall sports". Aspiring Olympians aged 16-25 were asked to come forward for testing, providing they had played sport to a good level and were taller than 6'3" for men and 5'11" for women.

Nearly 4,800 people applied but that number was whittled down through seven stages of assessment until approximately 100 were added to the development programmes of the three sports.

With the 2012 Game now less than five months away, 17 Sporting Giants have already competed internationally, winning 13 medals. Eight of the group are on track to compete in London, including two of British Rowing's best hopes, Helen Glover and Vicky Thornley.

"Talent ID programmes match people to the sports that suit them. That usually happens by luck but what we try to do is reduce the luck factor," said Warr.

Since the success of Sporting Giants, UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport have run six more talent ID schemes across 17 different Olympic and Paralympic sports. These initiatives have unearthed hidden talents that have won 85 international medals.

Great Britain's Olympic fortunes were revitalised in 1997 when funding from the National Lottery, launched in 1994, was channelled to the country's brightest talents via UK Sport.

Team GB won only one gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta to finish 36th in the rankings. Four years later, in Sydney, the team won 11 golds to climb to 10th and in Athens nine golds were claimed, a haul that maintained their top-10 status.

But the major breakthrough came in Beijing, where the team secured 19 gold medals and surged past Australia, France and Germany to claim that surprise fourth-place finish.

Warr admits the battle for medals will be keenly contested in London, particularly behind the three big powers of China, the US and Russia, but says Team GB's upward momentum should continue.

"We've gone from an era where we had a few plucky individuals who managed to climb their way to the pinnacle of their sport to a far more robust, more systematic, more sophisticated way of finding individuals who can win," the Loughborough-based sports scientist said.

Warr acknowledges that some of the thinking behind this approach has been borrowed from abroad but British Olympic chiefs have also looked to the arts, business and science for inspiration. Recent workshops, for example, have been with organisations as diverse as the European Space Agency and consumer electronics giant Sony.

"We can learn from any walk of life where performance really matters," she added.

Seven steps to success

- Sporting Giants (Feb 2007): search for hidden prowess in "tall sports"
- Pitch2Podium (May 2008): recycle talent from football and rugby academies
- Girls4Gold (June 2008): GB's biggest recruitment drive for women, aimed at six sports
- Fighting Chance (Oct 2009): call to combat athletes to try taekwondo
- Tall and Talented (Oct 2009): extension of Sporting Giants, aimed at basketball and rowing
- Paralympic Potential (Dec 2009): talent ID joint venture with ParalympicsGB
- Power2Podium (July 2011): hunt for talent in speed and power sports such as bobsleigh and rugby sevens

07 March 2012

ASC Strategic Plan: Working Together for Australian Sport is now available online@ASC

The ASC Strategic Plan covering the period from 2011-12 to 2014-15 was tabled in Parliament on 8 February and is now available online through the ASC website. The tabling of the plan, which has been approved by the Minister for Sport, represents an important milestone for the ASC in providing strong leadership and direction to the Australian sports sector to mid 2015.

A key focus of the plan are the partnerships with governments and the sport sector to achieve a shared national vision of more Australians participating and excelling in sport.

Copies of the ASC Strategic Plan (2011-12 to 2014-15) and the ASC Annual Operational Plan (2011-12) are now available in the Publications section of the ASC website.

The ASC’s Strategic and Operational Plans were developed in response to the ASC’s new policy direction and in alignment with the National Sport and Active Recreation Policy Framework (NSARPF), which represents a new era of cooperation and collaboration within sport.

Rugby World Cup-winning coach Sir Graham Henry will work with some of the country’s leading high performance coaches ahead of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games and beyond, High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) Chief Executive Alex Baumann has announced today.

Baumann says Sir Graham will help coaches fine-tune their preparations, so they can perform at their best in London. Sir Graham’s first assignment is with the Yachting New Zealand Olympic coaches later this month.

Sir Graham has signed a two-year contract with HPSNZ, and will work part-time during that period.

Sir Graham is committed to the development of coach leadership and most of his work with HPSNZ will have a longer-term focus. He will take on a mentoring role with targeted coaches, and will work with HPSNZ to help national sport organisations build the leadership capability of their high performance coaches.

“Sir Graham has 40 years’ experience in coaching and he knows what it takes to lead players and support staff to be the best in the world,” Baumann says.

“He will work with a range of coaches, of both teams and individuals, to help them become effective leaders of their programmes and people, increasing their chance of achieving sustained success.”

Sir Graham says he’s looking forward to working with HPSNZ, high performance coaches and national sports organisations.

“It’s crucial for coaches to be effective leaders, so hopefully sharing the knowledge gained from my coaching experiences will help New Zealand’s coaches provide the leadership and coaching their athletes need,” Sir Graham says.

Baumann, who recently started in his new role as Chief Executive, says coaching is the top priority for HPSNZ and he’s very pleased to have Sir Graham as part of the coaching team.

“If you have the best coaches in the world, then your athletes have a much better chance of performing at the highest level. Coaching is all about the athlete, and the right coaching is about making sure coaches deliver what’s needed to maximise success for that athlete or team.

“HPSNZ is prioritising resources for the development, recruitment and retention of high performance coaches, because we believe the quality of our coaching can be an area where New Zealand stands out against the rest of the world.”

01 March 2012

extra funding for Australian Olympic athletes

Minister announces extra Green and Gold funding injection@ASC

Minister for Sport Mark Arbib today announced a further $640,000 to targeted Olympic and Paralympic sports in the lead up to the London Games.

Senator Arbib said the injection was part of the Green and Gold Project which has now allocated almost $4.5 million in additional funding to assist Olympic and Paralympic athletes to succeed in London.

“With less than six months to go, the Australian Government is investing in the nation’s top performers to turn potential fourth, fifth and sixth places into medals and bronze and silver medals into gold,” Senator Arbib said.

“We are committed to giving our best sportspeople the necessary support to deliver in London and continue our proud success in Olympic and Paralympic sport.

“The Australian Government, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) and the Australian Paralympic Committee (APC) are providing a solid platform to give our athletes every opportunity to succeed on the world stage.”

AOC President John Coates AC welcomed the announcement of more funding.

“Our athletes will derive enormous benefit from this funding as their preparation for London 2012 enters a crucial stage,” Mr Coates said.

“Ultimately the Federal Government is providing this funding in an attempt to get kids off the couch and out playing sport. To do that the kids need role models and the Olympic Games provides those role models.”

APC President Greg Hartung was also very pleased by the announcement of further funding.

“Australia has a proud history of success at the Paralympic Games, having finished in the top five at every Games since Atlanta in 1996,” Mr Hartung said.

“Since Beijing in 2008, more and more countries have increased their investment into Paralympic sport and in London we’re likely to see a tough battle for every medal.

“Only a few medals will make the difference between Australia finishing fifth on the medal tally or outside the top 10 and this additional funding will help close that gap and convert silver and bronze medals to gold and fourth and fifth places into medals.

“The Team that will represent Australia in London will be best prepared ever. Full credit goes to our athletes and their extended support base along with their coaches and managers.

“None of this is possible without the co-operation of the Australian Government.”

Senator Arbib said the Australian Institute of Sport was working with sports, athletes and the national institute network to ensure athletes were prepared.

“We have world renowned experts in Australia in the fields of coaching, sports science and sports medicine and they are absolutely committed to getting our athletes on the podium,” Senator Arbib said.

“With this in mind we are harnessing the skills of our best and brightest people to maximise our chances in London through the Green and Gold project.

“In addition we opened the AIS European Training Centre (ETC) in Varese Italy last year to provide a 'home away from home' for Australian athletes, many of whom will use the ETC as a base to launch their bid for victory in London.”

The Australian Government is a strong supporter of both high performance and participation in sport announcing record funding levels in late 2010.