Russia up, Canada down in Perpetual Medal Count

The USA did just fine at the World Track and Field Championships in London. Maybe better than fine. No one dropped a relay baton, so that’s an improvement.

And the USA is still the runaway leader in the Perpetual Medal Count. But Russia is gaining on China, with a small asterisk.

Quick reminder of how this works: The Perpetual Medal Count starts with the 2016 Olympic medal count. As we have World Championships or similar events, each country “defends” its medals like championship belts in boxing or MMA. A lot of sports haven’t had a major competition since the Olympics, so those medals have not changed. Others have changed quite a bit, and we’ve added all the new events (skateboarding, sport climbing, mixed relays in everything) to the Perpetual Medal Count.

Here’s the current table, comparing the 2016 Olympic medal count with the PMC:


The major changes since the debut Perpetual Medal Count after the aquatics World Championships:

  • The beach volleyball World Championships didn’t change much. Brazil matched its two medals from Rio, and the USA and Germany matched their one medal each. But Russia picked up one medal, inching it closer to second place.
  • The women’s volleyball World Grand Prix final saw the USA and China each lose a medal.
  • Track and field changed a lot.

But we have a caveat: The medals assigned to “Authorized Neutral Athletes” in the World Championships have been assigned to Russia in the PMC. They’re all Russian athletes, and their “neutral” status is left over from the Great Russian Doping Scandal of 2014-16. The PMC is designed to tell us the relative strength of each country’s Olympic team, and these athletes won’t be “neutral” forever.

So that accounts for a six-medal swing for Russia. Little wonder they’ve almost caught China.

Other notes on the current tally:

  • Reminder: The USA picks up a lot of medals here in new events like skateboarding.
  • The World Championships did not include a mixed relay, even though that’s a new Olympic event. It did include a women’s 50k walk, which is not yet in the Olympics and therefore not included in the PMC.
  • Canada had six track and field medals in 2016. This year, none. Andre De Grasse’s injury was a killer.
  • The other big winners from track and field were Poland (up 5) and the Netherlands (up 3).
  • The other big loser from track and field was Jamaica (down 7). It wasn’t just Usain Bolt — the sprinters were virtually shut out across the board.


Presenting the Perpetual Medal Count

How are each country’s Olympic athletes trending in World Championship and other competition? Glad you asked.

As it stands now, U.S. athletes are doing quite well, tracking a good bit ahead of how they finished in Rio 2016. So are Russian, Australian, Chinese and French athletes. British athletes, on the other hand, are falling rapidly.


What does this mean?

Check out the Perpetual Medal Count, which adds up each country’s performance in Olympic events through all relevant World Championships. Each country starts with its medal count from the Rio Olympics, then gains or loses medals depending on how its athletes do in those events. In the chart above, the Rio medal count is on the left, and the Perpetual Medal Count on the right, with a plus/minus category at far right.

So if there’s been no relevant competition thus far (as in archery, badminton, basketball, boxing, canoeing, mountain bike, road cycling, equestrian, field hockey, golf, gymnastics, women’s handball, judo, modern pentathlon, rowing, rugby sevens, sailing, shooting, tennis, some volleyball, weightlifting, wrestling, and — until next week — track and field), the medals are still in the hands in the countries that won them in 2016.

Here’s how things stack up in some of the events that have been contested so far:

Track cycling: A huge 10-medal loss for Great Britain, which dominated in Rio and barely missed a shutout in worlds. Australia gained four.

Diving: More losses for the USA (-3) and Britain (-2); big gain for Russia (+4).

Swimming: Believe it or not, the USA broke even — 33 medals in 2016, 33 medals in Olympic events (including open water) in 2017. Add the new Olympic events, and the USA gets two more. The other major countries also came close to matching their Rio totals.

And the new events throughout the Games give the USA a huge boost — 15 medals total, though it’s tough to tell whether the skateboarding competition for the Olympics will resemble any other competition.

This will be updated every couple of weeks while we still have a lot of World Championships going on, then more sporadically in 2018, then picking up again in 2019.

Next up: the winter version.

2018 medal projections: 31 today

NBC’s Nick Zaccardi has taken care of something I had planned to do, rounding up this winter’s World Championship results into a medal projection.

His numbers:

34 Germany
28 USA
27 Norway
26 Canada
22 France

Compare this to the most recent Virtual Medal Table from Gracenote, which compiles all results:

34 Germany
34 Norway
31 USA
29 Canada (only 5 gold)
23 Russia

I haven’t done a full-fledged projection (and I might not), but I’ll take a quick pass through the World Championship results and assign a plus or minus to Nick’s count:


Medals won: 3

  • Mikaela Shiffrin: gold, slalom
  • Shiffrin: silver, giant slalom
  • Lindsey Vonn: bronze, downhill

Shiffrin won Sochi slalom gold at age 18. Now she’s the overall World Cup champion, dominating in slalom and running quite well in giant slalom. If Vonn’s healthy, she can do it again. The U.S. men can surprise, but if you’re crunching numbers, no one’s near the podium.

Reasonable projection: 3


Medals won: 2

  • Lowell Bailey: gold, 20k individual
  • Susan Dunklee: silver, 12.5k mass start

Breakthrough! At long last, Bailey and Dunklee put it all together and took major hardware. There’s no reason they can’t do it again, but unless you’re Laura Dahlmeier or Martin Fourcade, biathlon success can be fickle.

Reasonable projection: 1 (-1)


Medals won: 2

  • Elana Meyers Taylor / Kehri Jones: gold, women’s bobsled
  • Jamie Greubel Poser / Aja Evans: bronze, women’s bobsled

North American women are dominant these days — Canada’s Kaillie Humphries took the middle spot on the podium. The ever-reliable Steven Holcomb was in the World Cup overall top three in both two-man and four-man. The skeleton crew isn’t doing quite as well but still picked up a couple of World Cup podiums.

Reasonable projection: 3 (+1)


Medals won: 0 so far; mixed doubles is ongoing

John Shuster made the World Championship bronze-medal game for the second straight year but couldn’t follow through on his breakthrough medal from last year. Nina Roth finished fifth, and breaking that top four will be tough. The wild card: mixed doubles. Joe Polo and Tabitha Peterson took bronze last year, and Becca and Matt Hamilton have gone unbeaten in round-robin play. The Round of 16 and quarterfinals take place today.

Reasonable projection: 1 (+1)


Medals won: 2

  • Maia Shibutani / Alex Shibutani, bronze, ice dancing
  • Team, bronze (in World Team Trophy)

We can read the World Championship disappointment two ways. Maybe it means the USA just isn’t able to deliver. Or maybe it means phenoms Karen Chen (fourth) and Nathan Chen (sixth) now have the experience they need to blast through the competition next year. Also, two ice dancing medals are a good possibility.

Reasonable projection: 3 (+1)


Medals won: 6 (not including non-Olympic dual moguls)

  • Jonathon Lillis, gold, men’s aerials
  • Ashley Caldwell, gold, women’s aerials
  • Aaron Blunck, gold, men’s halfpipe
  • McRae Williams, gold, men’s slopestyle
  • Gus Kenworthy, silver, men’s slopestyle
  • Devin Logan, bronze, women’s halfpipe

Yeah, the USA is still pretty good in the X Games sports, and they’ve come roaring back in aerials. Two aerials golds and two men’s slopestyle medals may be tough to repeat, but the U.S. team has legitimate challengers across the board.

Reasonable projection: 6


Medals won: 1 (so far; men yet to play)

  • U.S. women, gold

They settled their labor dispute and won a world title. As always, we’re expecting a USA-Canada final. The men’s competition is completely up in the air — with NHL players apparently not getting time off to go, we might be back to the era of U.S. amateurs playing European pros.

Reasonable projection: 1


Medals won: 2 (not including non-Olympic sprint events)

  • Erin Hamlin, silver, women’s
  • Team, silver

In Hamlin we trust. And we should point out the World Championships weren’t in North America this year, so don’t chalk this up to home-ice advantage. Tucker West has a shot in the men’s event and strengthens the team for the relay.

Reasonable projection: 2

NORDIC EVENTS (cross-country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined)

Medals won: 3

  • Jessie Diggins, silver, sprint
  • Kikkan Randall, bronze, sprint
  • Diggins / Sadie Bjornsen, bronze, team sprint

Randall came roaring back after maternity leave. Diggins is now a true all-event threat, placing sixth in the World Cup. Still, sprints can be messy, and repeating the 2-3 from Worlds is far from guaranteed.

Reasonable projection: 2 (-1)


Medals won: 3 (not including several non-Olympic events)

  • Lindsey Jacobellis, gold, women’s snowboard cross
  • Chris Corning, silver, big air
  • Corning, bronze, slopestyle

No halfpipe medals? What in the name of Shaun White is going on here? That won’t happen next year.

Reasonable projection: 5 (+2)

SPEEDSKATING (long-track)

Medals won (World Single Distance): 4

  • Heather Bergsma, gold, women’s 1,000 meters
  • Bergsma, gold, women’s 1,500 meters
  • Bergsma, bronze, women’s mass start
  • Joey Mantia, gold, men’s mass start

It’s easy to lose faith after the flameout in Sochi, but Bergsma was overwhelming on the World Cup circuit (6-for-6 at 1,000 meters, 3-for-5 at 1,500). Brittany Bowe is working her way back. Mantia and Shani Davis had a few podiums as well.

Reasonable projection: 4

SPEEDSKATING (short-track)

Medals won: 0

John-Henry Krueger and J.R. Celski each had one World Cup bronze, and the men’s relay reached the podium once in six tries.

Reasonable projection: 0


What happens when you search for Olympic sports

Yes, SportsMyriad will have medal projections in 2016, but we’re doing things a little differently. Note the “we.” Not “I.” I’m getting help.

As preparation for the projections, I did a few searches on every Summer Olympic sport today. It’s difficult. So many summer sports are also recreational, and it’s hard to find coverage of the ISATWHATEVER World Cup amid all the stuff geared toward the practitioner, not the fan. Other sports are far more popular outside the Olympics.

Here’s what you find for each sport:

Archery: “I killed a bear. Check out these photos.”

Badminton: China, China, China, hey, can we make England as good as China?

Basketball: 405 tips for your fantasy team.

Beach volleyball: Duhhhh … they don’t wear much. (FWIW, I will never understand the fascination with skimpy beach volleyball apparel. It’s not as if track and field athletes are wearing parkas and golf pants.)

Boxing: We hate Floyd Mayweather.

Canoe/kayak: 405 tips for whitewater.

Cycling, BMX: Buy our gnarly BMX gear.

Cycling, mountain bike: Buy our gnarly mountain bike gear.

Cycling, road: Buy this $7,278 piece of equipment that will make you go slightly faster.

Cycling, track: … you wanna do what? ….

Diving: My latest vacation photos from the Great Barrier Reef.

Equestrian: 405 tales from veterinary research.

Fencing: Take the stuff you get at Home Depot and build this!

Golf: (A) 405 tips for your short game or (B) will Tiger Woods ever regain his form?

Gymnastics, artistic: My 405-part series on the scoring system and how it affects the way we teach 5-year-olds.

Gymnastics, rhythmic: noun, a form of gymnastics emphasizing dancelike rhythmic routines …”

Gymnastics, trampoline: Please take our trampoline. Free to anyone who can take it.

Handball: “Oh, you mean team handball? No one who writes about it actually calls it by that name.”

Hockey: “Oh, you mean field hockey? No one who writes about it actually calls it by that name.”

Judo: 405 tips for improving … oh, wait, Ronda Rousey’s mom just tweeted …

Modern pentathlon: 404 not found

Rowing: Anything with the word “row” (Front Row, Back Row) or even “Rowe.”

Rugby: 405 reasons England will never be as good as Australia or New Zealand.

Sailing: 405 tips for sailing the Chesapeake.

Shooting: “From my cold, dead hands …”

Soccer: Will Mourinho replace Van Gaal? And why didn’t Carli Lloyd win goal of the year?

Swimming: 405 tips for improving your lap time

Synchronized swimming: … um … what?

Table tennis: Wanna buy our table?

Taekwondo: Your dojo is a joke, dude.

Tennis: (A) 405 tips for improving your backhand or (B) how ridiculously awesome is Serena?

Track and field: We really love this sport in Oregon.

Triathlon: 405 tips for improving your transition from swim to bike.

Volleyball: “VolleyBall Girl Asses.” I wish I was kidding.

Water polo: “Water-Polo Hunks.” Turnabout is fair play?

Weightlifting: 405 ways to pick things up and put them down.

Wrestling: “JOHN CENA! WHOOOOOO!!!”

2016 medal projections: Handball (men’s)

The World Championships are all over bar the shouting. And people are shouting about Qatar — the country you know as the dubiously selected FIFA World Cup host in 2022 but now known as the country that bought a bunch of ringers for its handball team, bought a bunch of fans for this tournament and got so many questionable calls in its favor that one beaten opponent sarcastically applauded the refs.

That was after the powers that be realized Germany wasn’t in the tournament, so Oceania champion Australia was unceremoniously dumped so the handball-watching country could get a wild card.

Like South Korea’s soccer team after the 2002 World Cup, we need to ask whether Qatar will be able to duplicate this performance away from home. You have to figure refs in Rio won’t be quite as amenable to Qatar’s whims as they were in Qatar.

That said, I’m already second-guessing myself for omitting Brazil, the only team to place in the top 16 in the last two World Championships that isn’t listed here. They were 13th in 2013, 16th this year. So they’ll have fewer performance points than anyone else on the list, but if I gave them a five-point adjustment (as I did for Poland, based on more or less a gut feeling not related to them sarcastically applauding the refs), they would move ahead of Egypt.

But they’re a long shot in any case. France has won the last two Olympics and three of the last four world championships, the last by silencing Qatar in a tense final. They’re the obvious favorites.

Denmark has been a consistent European medalist and took silver in the 2011 and 2013 Worlds. They took fifth in Qatar, rebounding from quarterfinal disappointment to win their next two games.

The team that beat Denmark is Spain, which also managed to beat Qatar in group play. They lost to France in the semifinals and dropped the third-place game to Poland.

Croatia and Germany, both perennial powers, won their groups but lost in the quarterfinals. Germany, though, has had some qualification issues in recent tournaments.

And qualifying isn’t easy. Only 12 teams make it, including host Brazil, one team from the Americas, one team from Asia, and one team from Africa. That leaves a maximum of eight teams from Europe, and any team that makes it from there has a shot at a medal.

So we’ll need to revisit this after qualification. At least one team with more than a 30 percent chance of qualifying will miss out.

Until then, here’s the chart of contenders, with projected medalists: France, Denmark, Spain.

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Medal projection fever: Events that matter in 2015

Ten days until the men’s handball World Championships! That’s the first of many events that will feed into the 2016 medal projections this year. By the end of the year, I’ll have every Rio event projected. Even SuperBacteria Sailing.

Wikipedia rounds up nearly everything that matters in 2015, but I’ll focus here on medal projection events, mostly World Championships.

Jan. 15-Feb. 1: Men’s handball Worlds, Qatar. Winner qualifies for Olympics.

Feb. 18-22: Track cycling Worlds, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. Olympic qualifying is based on rankings.

April 14-19: Equestrian dressage and jumping World Cup finals, Las Vegas. The World Equestrian Games are in even non-Olympic years. The other Olympic discipline, eventing, has World Cup events from March to October. Wikipedia sums up Olympic qualifying quite well and links to the official documents.

April 26-May 3: Table tennis Worlds, Suzhou, China. Little effect on Olympic qualifying, which is done through continental tournaments and rankings.

May 16-17: Rugby (men’s) Sevens Series final, London. Top four in final standings qualify for Olympics.

May 23-24: Rugby Women’s Sevens Series final, Amsterdam. Top four in final standings … you get the idea.

May 30-June 20: Soccer, men’s U20 World Cup, New Zealand. The closest analogue to an Olympic men’s soccer (U23 plus some overage players) event this year. Olympic qualification is in 2016.

* June 6-July 5: Soccer, Women’s World Cup, Canada. For European teams, this is also this Olympic qualifier, as absurd as that is. North American qualification will be in 2016.

June 8-14: Sailing, World Cup final, Weymouth and Portland, England. Sailing has Worlds in non-Olympic even years, though some classes also have Worlds in odd years. Got it? I’m just linking to Wikipedia for the Olympic qualification summary, which is more up-to-date and coherent than the official version.

June 26-July 5: Beach volleyball Worlds, Netherlands. The FIVB also has four “majors” in June through August and five “Grand Slams” in May through August. That’s not confusing at all. World champions earn Olympic quotas; most of the other spots are filled by rankings.

June 28-July 28: Modern pentathlon Worlds, Berlin. Three Olympic quota spots per gender available. World Cup final, which offers one spot per gender, is two weeks earlier. They’ll also give three more per gender at the 2016 Worlds.

July 13-19: Fencing Worlds, Moscow. The Grand Prix runs through May 31. Olympic qualification is mostly rankings.

July 21-25: BMX Worlds, Heusden-Zolder, Germany. Also World Cup events in April, May, August and September (2). Olympic qualification is almost solely based on rankings.

* July 24-Aug. 9: Aquatic Worlds (swimming, diving, water polo, synchro, open water), Kazan, Russia. Diving also has a World Series and a Grand Prix leading up to an October finale. The water polo World League finals will be in June and July. FINA kindly wraps up all its Olympic qualifying info on one hub page. Quota spots at stake here: Swimming relays, open water, diving, water polo. Not individual swimming races (based on qualifying times) or synchronized swimming (continental qualifiers).

July 26-Aug. 2: Archery Worlds, Copenhagen, Denmark. Olympic quotas at stake. World Cups are scattered May through October in addition to an indoor season that wraps Feb. 6-7 in Las Vegas.

Aug. 6-16: Shooting, World Cup, Gabala, Azerbaijan. This is the last stop of the year in which Olympic quotas are at stake. Except in shotgun (see Sept. 9-18).

Aug. 10-16: Badminton Worlds, Jakarta, Indonesia. Other events go year-round. Olympic quotas based on world ranking May 5, 2016.

Aug. 19-23: Canoe sprint Worlds, Milan, Italy. Many Olympic quota spots at stake. Also three World Cup events in May.

* Aug. 22-30: Track and field Worlds, Beijing. The Diamond League runs May 15 through July 30, then resumes after Worlds with final events Sept. 3 and 11. Olympic qualification is based mostly on times.

Aug. 22-Sept. 6: Women’s volleyball World Cup, Japan. The World Championship was last year, and the World Grand Prix will wrap earlier in the summer. This one has a couple of Olympic spots available.

Aug. 24-30: Judo Worlds, Astana, Kazakhstan. Olympic qualification is driven by rankings, so watch Grand Slam (ouch!) and Grand Prix events through the year.

Aug. 30-Sept. 6: Rowing Worlds, Lac d’Aiguebelette, France. This is the main Olympic quota qualifier.

Aug. 31-Sept. 6: Mountain bike Worlds, Vallnord, Andorra. World Cup final is a week earlier. Olympic qualification based mostly on rankings.

Sept. 7-13: Rhythmic gymnastics Worlds, Stuttgart, Germany. Many Olympic quotas at stake.

* Sept. 7-13: Wrestling Worlds, Las Vegas. Winners get Olympic quotas.

Sept. 8-23: Men’s volleyball World Cup, Japan. The World Championship was last year, and the World League will wrap earlier in the summer. This one has a couple of Olympic spots available.

Sept. 9-18: Shooting, World Shotgun Championship, Lonato, Italy. Yes, Olympic quotas are at stake.

Sept. 15-20: Canoe slalom Worlds, London. This is the big Olympic qualifier. World Cups run June through August.

Sept. 15-20: Triathlon World Series final, Chicago. Last of a 10-race series in addition to several World Cup races. Many Olympic quota spots are based on rankings, but there are a few other events that give automatic spots. Not this one, though.

Sept. 16-23: Taekwondo World Championships, Chelyabinsk, Russia. Olympic quotas based mostly on ranking.

Sept. 19-27: Road cycling Worlds, Richmond, Va. (!!) Overshadowed by the Tour de France and sometimes lost in the very busy cycling calendar, but the time trials have Olympic quota spots up for grabs.

Oct. 5-18: Men’s boxing Worlds, Qatar. Women’s Worlds were held in November 2014. Will add links when AIBA’s website comes back up. The men’s event has a handful of Olympic quotas at stake.

* Oct. 24-Nov. 2: Gymnastics Worlds, Glasgow. Many Olympic quotas at stake. Gymnastics has a few other competitions through the year, but not always with great pools of talent.

Nov. 20-29: Weightlifting Worlds, Houston. Olympic quotas at stake.

Nov. 28-Dec. 6: Field hockey men’s World League final, Mohali, India. Olympic qualifying spots at stake. Field hockey also has a World Cup in non-Olympic even years.

Nov. 25-28: Trampoline Worlds, Odense, Denmark. Will fill roughly half of the Olympic quotas.

Dec. 5-13: Field hockey women’s World League finals, Rosario, Argentina. Olympic qualifying spots at stake. Field hockey also has a World Cup in non-Olympic even years.

Dec. 5-20: Women’s handball Worlds, Denmark.  Winner qualifies for Olympics.

No World Championships or definitive international competition this year: Basketball (men’s World Cup and women’s World Championship in 2014).

Golf and tennis qualification is based on rankings, and you won’t need me to tell you when the majors pop up.

Important events and Olympic qualifiers in the Americas …

July 10-26: Pan Am Games, Toronto. A few sports use this for Olympic qualification, including canoe/kayak, diving, equestrian, field hockey, handball, shooting, table tennis, water polo.

2016 or tba: Continental or last-chance qualifiers in archery, beach volleyball, boxing, canoe/kayak (only for countries with no qualifiers), diving, fencing, gymnastics, handball, modern pentathlon, mountain bike, rowing, rugby, soccer, synchronized swimming. table tennis, triathlon, water polo, volleyball, weightlifting, wrestling.


And for winter sports folks …

Jan. 15-25: Snowboarding and freestyle skiing Worlds, Kreischberg, Austria. It’s like the FIS answer to the X Games! And unfortunately, it’s scheduled at the same time …

Jan. 22-25: Winter X Games, Aspen. Looks like they’ll have most of the top athletes except perhaps in one or two events.

Feb. 2-15: Alpine skiing Worlds, Vail/Beaver Creek, Colo.

Feb. 12-15: Speedskating Worlds (single-distance), Heerenveen, Netherlands. The sprint championships are Feb. 28-March 1 (Astana, Kazakhstan), allrounds are March 7-8 (Calgary).

Feb. 14-15: Luge Worlds, Sigulda, Latvia.

Feb. 18-March 1: Nordic skiing Worlds (including ski jumping and combined), Falun, Sweden.

Feb. 23-March 8: Bobsled/skeleton Worlds, Winterberg, Germany.

March 3-15: Biathlon Worlds, Kontiolahti, Finland.

March 13-15: Short-track speedskating Worlds, Moscow.

March 14-22: Women’s curling Worlds, Sapporo, Japan. Interesting test for the USA’s revamped High Performance program.

March 23-29: Figure skating Worlds, Shanghai.

March 28-April 4: Women’s hockey Worlds, Malmo, Sweden. USA’s turn at last? Will anyone other than the USA and Canada take gold or silver?

March 28-April 5: Men’s curling Worlds, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Another interesting test for the USA’s revamped High Performance program.

May 1-17: Men’s hockey Worlds, Czech Republic. (As always, conveniently scheduled while many of the world’s best players are busy with the Stanley Cup playoffs.)

And other stuff you should know about this year:

Jan. 31-Feb. 1: Cyclocross Worlds, Tabor, Czech Republic. Not an Olympic event but should be. In Katie Compton we trust.

Feb. 14-March 29: Cricket (men’s) World Cup, Australia/New Zealand.

July 4-18??: American football Worlds. Moving from Sweden to Canton, Ohio. Not sure if they’ll keep those dates.

Sept. 18-Oct. 31: Rugby (men’s) World Cup, England.

Medal projections: Stats vs. subjectivity

Can we really come up with a statistical model for projecting Olympic medals?

I’ve often joked that I want to be the Nate Silver of Olympic medal projections. But Nate knows a lot more about stats than I do — I never took a single class in the subject, and I just hack my way through spreadsheets on the basis of some self-teaching and the occasional journalists’ seminar. (Did I just ruin my chances of getting hired to consult at the new FiveThirtyEight?)

Since Sochi, I’ve embarked on a bit more self-teaching in spreadsheets and stats. At the same time, I firmly believe I’m hitting the limits of what stats can tell us about Olympic performance.

Check this prototype I’ve made for the Rio 2016 medal projections:

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A bit of explanation:

– Columns C through I are results from the Olympics, World Championships and the Diamond League. Obviously, we have a long way to go in this cycle, so many spaces are x’d out.

– Column J is each athlete’s personal best. Column K is each athlete’s best from the past season — for now, from 2013.

– I’ve assigned points to each of these columns, as you’ll see in the lower half of the spreadsheet. These can be adjusted without redoing a whole lot of work! If I decide to count the 2013-14 Diamond Leagues a little bit less, I simply change the point values in that chart. And I can duplicate this spreadsheet for use in sports that have different competitions.

So the point system is already bringing some subjectivity into the mix. I’ve decided to weigh the 2012 Olympics, the 2015 World Championship and the 2016 Diamond League more heavily than other competition. Then I’ve made a judgment call to assign points to times.

Then add another bit of subjectivity: Column N is an adjustment value. I can use this to account for any competitions missed through injury (Yohan Blake, Asafa Powell) or suspension (Tyson Gay).

Add it all up, and you have three columns that look scientific. Column O is “PI” or Predictive Index. (Yes, I said “Performance Index” on the spreadsheet – please ignore that.) Column P shows the percentage of possible points — divide an athlete’s PI by the “Max predictive index” in the middle of the spreadsheet. That number will rise throughout the cycle. When the 2014 Diamond League is complete, we’ll add 15 (the maximum value for Diamond League standings) for a total of 105.

Then Column Q is “odds”, a simple percentage chance of earning a medal in this event. I tinkered with a couple of possible formulas for this column. Perhaps I simply apply the %max column and adjust it so the numbers will add up to reality — you wouldn’t want four people to have am 80% chance at winning a medal, for example. Or perhaps I calculate how many standard deviations an athlete’s PI is away from the other contenders.

What formula is in there now? None. I eyeballed it.

That’s not a final decision. Perhaps I’ll figure out a statistically sound way to convert the PI into actual odds. But I’m not sure it’s really necessary.

We know Usain Bolt will win a medal unless he (A) isn’t healthy or (B) has a serious problem at the start, including a false start. The 100 meters, moreso than most events, is all about raw speed. Work up to 1,500 meters, and tactics become an issue — in a slower race, finishing speed is more important than a personal best over the whole distance.

I haven’t taken age into account, though I would expect the 2015 and 2016 results to catch anyone on the decline. But for now, I’m skeptical that Justin Gatlin will be in 2012 form in 2016.

So to make the 2016 projections, I’ll compile a lot of numbers. That helps, of course. If Nickel Ashmeade doesn’t improve his personal best of 9.90, it’s ridiculous to declare him a medal favorite. Yet when all is said and done, I’m going to leave some space for a gut feeling.

This isn’t a 162-game baseball season, where weather conditions and other factors tend to even out over time. This isn’t a presidential election, where substantial polling points to clear trends, and Nate’s success has shut up the pundits who didn’t get the math. This is a projection of who is going to run the fastest in one 10-second race.

I do hope to add some probability this time around. Usain Bolt (if healthy) will be much more likely to win a medal for Jamaica than my gold medal pick in some random judo weight class in which 10 people have a legitimate shot to win, and I hope my medal count projection will reflect this.

So I’m not afraid of a little math. I’m just looking for a healthy balance between the calculated world and the real world.

Olympic medals: The host-nation bounce is real

Olympic stats wizard Bill Mallon has quantified the host-nation bounce, showing that the country that last hosted the Olympics can typically expect to win roughly 70% of the medals it won at home.

The genius of this analysis is that it factors out the growth of the Games (particularly winter) by analyzing the medal count in terms of percentage of medals won. So if the Olympics add 30 events for 2018 (don’t worry — it won’t happen), then sure, Russia could match its Sochi record count. But the percentage of available medals won should drop.

When you’re projecting medals event-by-event, like I do, it’s difficult to account for this bounce. For London and Sochi, I’ve tended to break ties by favoring the home athlete. For London, I overreached, predicting 78 medals for Britain. They got 65. For Russia, I undershot, predicting 26 to an actual 33.

Some of the bounce comes from increased interest at home. Athletes on the verge of retirement stick around to compete. Federations get a bit more sponsorship money.

Some comes from home crowds. Some comes from those crowds affecting the judges. (Looking your way, figure skating folks.)

Brazil has revved up for 2016 with its best-ever medal haul in 2012 — 17 medals. They’ve been in double digits for the last five Games, with 15 in Atlanta 1996 and Beijing 2008.

In 2018, South Korea will surely improve on its total of eight from Sochi. Crowds at the 2002 World Cup turned an average soccer team into a world-beater, and they should have no trouble having the same effect on the speedskaters who underperformed this year.

2014 medal projections: Some excruciating details

How did the Olympic results compare with all the things we could use to predict them? Glad you asked:

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And this:

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Basically, I’m comparing three different types of results:

1. Majors: How skiers fared in the last Olympics and the last two World Championships. The number in “Majors” is a median — it ignores any null results, and the 2013 World Championships are counted twice so that they’ll be weighted more heavily.

2. Cup: Median of the last four World Cup seasons, with the last two counted twice so they’ll be weighted more heavily.

3. 13-14: The 2013 and 14 World Cups and the 2013 World Championships. A simple median this time, with no extra weighting.

Then for each skier, I calculated the difference between those numbers and his Olympic finish. Then I took the top 10 from the Olympics and calculated the absolute value of each difference. (In other words — I just want to know how far away from reality it was, so finishing four places higher than projected would be the same as finishing four places lower.)

So at bottom right, I took the median of each of the groups of differences. And that gave me a way of comparing which group of numbers was better for projecting medal results.

For the downhill, the 2013-14 numbers were better than the World Cup results, but the Cup results were much better than the majors. For the super-G, the majors were better, but I think that’s skewed by what I will refer to by a name I hope will catch on in statistics — the Weibrecht factor. That’s Andrew Weibrecht, who took bronze in 2010 and did little else in the intervening years before taking silver in 2014.

This is really too much to do for every event, but I think this exercise has pointed me toward a points system I’ll use for predictions going forward. I may do a few more winter events to refine the points system — it’ll have to be adapted for sports that don’t do World Cups and World Championships on the typical winter sports schedule, anyway.

But the next step, starting in a month or so — 2016. And we’re going to have easy-to-read charts of each athletes’ past performances, all leading to a predictive index.

Should be fun. Keep reading.

Where the Olympic medals came from and went

The biggest differences between the Sochi medal projections and the Sochi medal count were:

  • USA – Speedskating: Projected 7, got 0. In the other direction, there’s sliding sports: Projected 3, got 7.
  • Norway – Cross-country skiing: Projected 18, got 11. Also biathlon: Projected 12, got 6.
  • Netherlands – Speedskating: Projected 14, got 23. The only other projected or actual medal: They picked one up in short-track.
  • Germany – Sliding sports: Projected 11, got 5.
  • Sweden – Cross-country skiing: Projected 5, got 11.
  • South Korea – Short-track: Projected 9, got 5. And speedskating: Projected 5, got 2.
  • France – Action sports: Projected 2, got 7.

Here’s the complete breakdown:

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The numbers represent how many medals each country gained or lost vs. the predictions. I highlighted some sports for each country to show how many medals had been projected, but I didn’t bother with every country that was projected for 1 or 2 medals in a given sport.

Two areas were eerily accurate: Canada’s freestyle skiers and Austria’s Alpine skiers each picked up nine medals, just as projected.

So what can we say about the medal count leaders?

Russia (projected 26, actual 33): Short-track skater Victor Ahn was expected to do well and did a bit better — Russia picked up two extra medals there. Snowboarder Vic Wild added two by himself, and the snowboarders got four instead of the projected one. The rest of the gains and losses were scattered. The hosts also doubled their projected count of gold medals from six to 13.

USA (35, 28): It’s pretty simple — the USA missed its projected medal count by seven, and they all came from speedskating, where the USA picked up zero of a projected seven. That’s tied for the biggest flop of the Games with Norway’s cross-country team, but Norway’s skiers at least picked up half of their projected medals. The X Gamers actually came up one shy of a large projection, but the sliding sports and Alpine skiers balanced out losses elsewhere.

Norway (39, 26): They picked up tons of medals in biathlon and cross-country. They were just expected to pick up more. We expected Netherlands-style domination and didn’t quite get it.

Canada (30, 25): Some bad luck in short-track and some underperforming in action sports accounted for the drop. They matched their projection of 10 gold medals thanks to the team sports, where they turned all four projected medals into gold. Only one of those was projected.

Netherlands (14, 24): They go around in circles very quickly. All of their 14 projected medals were in speedskating, and they beat that by nine. The other was in speedskating’s cousin, short-track. They came close to another couple of medals in short-track and one in women’s bobsled.

Germany (23,19): Like Norway’s cross-country team, they didn’t quite dominate the sliding track as expected.

Austria (22, 17): The Alpine skiers were fine; the snowboarders didn’t hold up their end.

France (12, 15): We can sum it up in one event — they swept men’s skicross. That was three of the additional five they picked up in action sports.

Sweden (10, 15): Took a few cross-country medals we expected to go to Norway.

Switzerland (11, 11): They must love Spinal Tap. Flopped in action sports but picked up the odd medal here and there, including women’s hockey bronze.

China (6, 9): All three in short-track.

South Korea (15, 8): The Netherlands’ gains on the speedskating oval and China’s gains in short-track came at their expense. Yuna Kim was the only other athlete to make an impact.