Sochi Olympics – not a total boondoggle!

Maybe this news will entice other countries to bid on the 2022 Games: FasterSkier.com — Sochi Can’t Make Money? Who Says? OC Posts $261 Million Profit.

Sure, that money didn’t include all the infrastructure costs, government operational costs or cash that just disappeared into the mountains somewhere, but at least there’s something to show for it.

So what do you say, Oslo? Imagine how much money you can make with most of the infrastructure already in place!

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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.

The Games go on, Paralympics edition

We should probably dispense with the idea that Vladimir Putin timed the mess in Ukraine to occur after everyone left Sochi. Another wave is coming in right now for the Paralympics.

And while we in the USA don’t pay quite as much attention to the Paralympics as other countries do — though, in contrast to the Olympics, NBC’s networks will air the opening ceremony live and offer much more live action in the early morning hours — this is a large event that will be taking place under a large shadow.

As difficult as it may be to separate the geopolitics from the inspiring stories of athletes overcoming great challenges, we’ll have no shortage of the latter.

– The BBC offers up some global stars to watch.

– FasterSkier.com checks in on U.S. hopefuls in biathlon and cross-country skiing (yes, the USA has quite a few).

– NBC’s OlympicTalk has the full U.S. roster.

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:

[gview file=”https://duresport.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/2014-projection-analysis-as-m-dh.pdf”%5D

And this:

[gview file=”http://www.sportsmyriad.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/2014-projection-analysis-AS-M-SG.pdf”%5D

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.

Was Dominica’s Olympic ski team a fraud?

What would you do to participate in the Olympics and get a nice wave of publicity?

Would you gain citizenship in a small foreign country? Would you go to the Games knowing that your best performances had barely pushed you over the very low bar to qualify in a couple of events?

And would you do all this knowing you’re going to come under such heavy scrutiny that people would end up doubting the injury and illness that kept you from competing?

It’s easy to shrug off the Deadspin report on “Dominica’s fake ski team” — Gary di Silvestri and Angelica Morrone — given Deadspin’s basic mission as a sports site for people who want to feel superior to athletes. But Deadspin has been turning up some sound investigations recently, and the byline here belongs to Dave McKenna, the intrepid D.C. journalist whose work for City Paper infuriated Washington NFL owner Dan Snyder to the point of legal intimidation tactics.

And McKenna turns up details that haven’t been seen elsewhere, digging into di Silvestri’s claims about his high school wrestling and college rowing exploits.

Other aspects of the di Silvestri story might be piling on. Angelica Morrone’s role in Fiat’s questionable tactics in lobbying for events in Italy seems less interesting to me than it does to McKenna — a parenthetical, perhaps, but not much else. A land deal in Turks and Caicos is a little more interesting, but the evidence of wrongdoing isn’t conclusive at this point.

For Olympic organizers, the bigger question is this: How did these two get into the Games? And veteran Olympic reporter Mark Zeigler dug deeply into that question. Everyone who competes in the Olympics has to qualify somehow, but is the bar too low in places?

I had this discussion during the Games with Ken Childs, the North Carolinian who tracks sliding sports in vivid detail. He lamented the limited Olympic quotas on skeleton and bobsled while certain ski events have just about anyone who can put on skis. And he has a point about keeping dedicated, qualified sliders out of the Games while the gallivanting di Silvestris walk in the Opening Ceremony.

But the low bar in a few events has a noble purpose. In the Summer Olympics, you’ll see scores of small countries represented in track and field’s 100 meters or perhaps a short swim race. Judo also opens up to more than 130 countries. The FIS (skiing) criteria designates the less risky Alpine races and a couple of cross-country races with low qualification standards for countries to get one male athlete and one female athlete into the competition.

And you’d hate to see that open door slammed shut. For every couple that games the system and gets a dubious invitation to the Games, there’s a guy from East Timor who inspires his nation just by getting through a brutal slalom course that tripped up roughly two-thirds of the skiers. He can go the rest of his life telling people he beat Ted Ligety.

The moral of the di Silvestris is this: If you have anything questionable in your past, you might want to address it before you let yourself become a feel-good Olympic story. The spotlight isn’t always a happy place.

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:

[gview file=”https://duresport.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2014-medal-projections-difference-1.pdf”%5D

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.

Best/worst, Sochi medal projections vs. reality: Feb. 23

The 50k cross-country race turned into a microcosm of the Olympics — a big pack going around most of the way, then Russia blasting away from everyone at the end.

For the last couple of days, we’ve figured no country would get more than 30 medals. With that cross-country sweep, Russia wound up with 33.

We’ll wrap up later today or tomorrow with a look at where each country gained or lost.

FULL TABLE

[gview file=”https://duresport.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2014-medal-projections-feb23.pdf”%5D

HIGHLIGHTS

Most prescient thing I’ve ever written: On OZY on Saturday, I wrote about Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir: “Why limit them to figure skating? How about red-carpet critiques?” Today’s news: “The duo are leaving Sochi following their last show for NBC and heading to Los Angeles, where they’ll critique fashion at the Oscars for Access Hollywood.”

Best argument against inconsistent drug-testing authoritarianism: Sweden’s Nicklas Backstrom’s allergy medication tripped a drug test that wasn’t handled in a way that broke a lot of precedent. (Disclaimer 1: I’m a Washington Capitals fan. Disclaimer 2, more importantly: I’ve seen a lot of nonsense like this in the name of “anti-doping.”)

Most candid statement on doping: Austrian skier Johannes Duerr (no relation) blamed no one but himself: “This is the worst thing I’ve done in my life.”

Most impressive stand: The Olympics are finished, and 73-year-old Prokofey Drovichev’s house is still right next to the Olympic Park.

Biggest improvements: Russia’s leap from 15 medals in 2010 to 33 this time is second only to the USA’s leap from 13 to 34 in 2002, Bill Mallon reports. Adding sports and being at home can do that.

Cutest interview: Figure skater Polina Edmunds needed to interview someone in Spanish for her high school class. Short-track skater Eddy Alvarez stepped up. (HT: For the Win)

Biggest relief: One way or another, all those people who promised death and destruction during the Olympics were dissuaded.

That’s all, folks. For now. After catching up on sleep, expect more breakdowns of the numbers from Sochi. Then news and notes from the rest of the winter sports season. Then we gear up for Rio.

 

Sochi recap: Cross-country skiing, men’s 50k

Russia put a punctuation mark on its Olympics by sweeping the longest race on the program, with the top four finishing within one second of each other.

Date: 23-Feb

Sport: Cross-country skiing

Event: Men’s 50k freestyle mass start

Medalists: Alexander Legkov (Russia), Maxim Vylegzhanin (Russia), Ilia Chernousov (Russia)

SportsMyriad projections: Petter Northug (Norway), Maxim Vylegzhanin (Russia), Alexander Legkov (Russia)

How U.S. fared: Noah Hoffman was up near the front and spent most of the time from 10k to 20k tucked in second place behind Sweden’s Anders Soedergren and returned there at 42.5k. He finally settled back in the pack at 45k, coming across 12th but still only 6.3 seconds off the lead. But he kept dropping and finished 26th, 1:09.1 behind.

Kris Freeman, a four-time Olympian who has twice finished fourth in World Championship races, dropped off the pace around the 20k mark. He finished 57th, 12:51.5 behind.

First-time Olympian Brian Gregg also dropped back and finished 51st, 8:07.1 behind. Torin Koos did not start.

What happened: One big loss early on — Sweden’s Marcus Hellner, the 30k skiathlon silver medalist 14 days ago, was ailing and did not start. Germany had two biathletes in the field — Arnd Peiffer and Erik Lesser — from the relay squad that took a silver medal yesterday.

Through 20k, 47 of the 64 skiers who started the race were still within 32 seconds of the lead. Few skiers opted to make a pit stop and change skis, worried about losing time to the leaders. Norwegian star Petter Northug, who won four medals in 2010 but was empty-handed so far this time, was lurking around the mid-30s.

Russia’s Alexander Legkov made the crowd roar with a mini-breakaway as they came into the stadium for the 30k mark, but he turned out to be one of many skiers opting to change skis at last. Belarus skier Michail Semenov, in a blinding yellowish-green suit, did not change and went through with the lead.

Finland’s Matti Heikkinen, best known for winning the 2011 15k classical World Championship, took advantage of the shakeup from ski changes to break away from the pack, but he was back with the back by the 40k mark. The leaders at 42.5k were, oddly enough, the same leaders we saw at 10k — Soedergren and Hoffman.

Soedergren brought the pack through the stadium at 45k with two Russians, Alexander Legkov and Maxim Vylegzhanin, within a second. Eighteen skiers were still within 10 seconds, including other favorites such as Martin Johnsrud Sundby (Norway) and Dario Cologna (Switzerland). The first major gap was after No. 28 Alex Harvey (Canada), who was 14.5 seconds back.

The pack was still absurdly close with only two kilometers to go — 19 skiers within five seconds of the lead. Then the worst bit of luck for Cologna, the 30k skiathlon gold medalist, whose ski snapped.

The last climb saw six or seven skiers pushing ahead, three of them from Russia. It wound up a group of four — Russians Legkov, Vylegzhanin and Ilia Chernousov along with Norway’s Sundby.

At the end, it was Legkov winning by 0.8 seconds. Chernousov zipped past Sundby to force a photo finish with Vylegzhanin — and a Russian sweep.

Legkov and Vylegzhanin were no surprise. Legkov was fourth in the 50k classic at last year’s World Championships, and he was first in World Cup distance points in 2013. Vylegzhanin completed an unusual double, also taking silver in the team sprint, but he was also second in this event at the 2009 World Championships and again in 2011. Chernousov was a little bit more of a surprise, but he has been on a World Cup podium in this event.

So it wasn’t a shocking result for any of the individuals. But all three clicking on such a grand stage was a wonderful surprise for the crowd that has enjoyed its time at the scenic Laure cross-country venue.

Full results

Best/worst, Sochi medal projections vs. reality: Feb. 22

Unless Alexander Zubkov crashes on his home track and Norway sweeps the 50k cross-country race on Sunday, Russia will be the first host country to finish atop the medal count since … Norway, in 1994.

If you prefer following gold medal counts to overall medal counts, you’re no fun, and possibly a little pedantic. But the last host country to have the most gold medals was Canada, last time.

A few bits of medal trivia:

– 26 countries have won medals in Sochi, tying the number from last time. In fact, they’re the same 26.

– The projections had 25 countries winning medals. Slovakia and Croatia weren’t projected for medals but came through in biathlon (Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina, gold) and Alpine skiing (Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic, silver). Liechtenstein did not get its projected medal, thanks to Tina Weirather’s ill-timed training crash.

– Russia and the Netherlands are locked in a battle for most improved. Russia won 15 medals in 2010, only three gold, but have 29 in 2014 with another one likely tomorrow. The Netherlands jumped from eight medals in 2010 to 24 this year.

CURRENT PACE

Original projections: Norway 39, USA 35, Canada 30, Russia 26, Germany 23, Austria 22, South Korea 15, Netherlands 14, France 12, Switzerland 11, Sweden 10, Japan 7, Italy 7, China 6, Czech Republic 6

The current count: Russia 29, USA 27, Norway 26, Canada 24, Netherlands 24, Germany 19, Austria 17, France 15, Sweden 14, Switzerland 11, China 9, South Korea and several others 8.

If the three remaining projections were to come true (and they can’t, because we know Russia won’t medal in hockey), we’d end up with: Russia 33, USA 28, Norway 27, Canada 25, Netherlands 24, Germany 20, Austria 17, France 15, Sweden 15, Switzerland 11, China 9, South Korea 8, Czech Republic 8, Japan 8, Italy 8. (Also, Slovenia 8, from an original projection of 5.)

We know Finland will take hockey bronze for its fifth medal, and Sweden and Canada will each take a hockey medal. We’re halfway through the four-man bobsled, and it’s very close between Russia, Latvia, Germany and the USA. There’s an outside chance of a second medal for Germany or Russia, or possibly one medal for Britain or Switzerland. The original projection was Russia, Germany, USA. If I had to predict it now, I’d say Russia, Latvia, USA.

The cross-country picks were Norway, Russia, Russia. Based on form, I’d say Norway, Finland, Russia.

So tomorrow’s projected medal count: Russia 2, Finland 2, Norway 1, Sweden 1, Canada 1, Latvia 1, USA 1.

So the final guess for the final medal count is: Russia 31, USA 28, Norway 27, Canada 25, Netherlands 24, Germany 19, Austria 17, France 15, Sweden 15, etc.

UP

Germany (+2 today, -3 overall): Rallying late in the Games with success in biathlon and snowboarding today. In position to finish at -3 if the bobsled team comes through. (Or get back to even by sweeping the 50k cross-country.)

Russia (+1 today, +7 overall): Vic Wild did it again, the biathlon men picked up their projected relay gold, and the speedskating women added one more.

Austria (+1 today, -5 overall): Projected for a big haul of four medals from seven events today, and they did even better with five.

FULL TABLE

[gview file=”https://duresport.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2014-medal-projections-feb22.pdf”%5D

HIGHLIGHTS

Most audacious goal: Mikaela Shiffrin says she’s going for five golds in 2018, one better than Janica Kostelic’s record. She’ll need to pick up the speed events in a hurry.

Worst bobsled finish: A Canadian sled wound up upside-down.

Worst teammate: See, the Dutch speedskaters aren’t perfect.

Worst political display:

https://twitter.com/ESPNOlympics/status/437238509707857920

Worst illness timing:

https://twitter.com/ESPNOlympics/status/437238506356621312

Biggest sign that this is all ending:

Sochi recap: Alpine skiing, men’s slalom

Austria’s Mario Matt has two world slalom titles (2001, 2007) and plenty of World Cup success. But he has rarely been healthy in the Olympics — in fact, he had never finished an Olympic slalom. Now the 34-year-old is a gold medalist.

Date: 22-Feb

Sport: Alpine skiing

Event: Men’s slalom

Medalists: Mario Matt (Austria), Marcel Hirscher (Austria), Henrik Kristoffersen (Norway)

SportsMyriad projections: Marcel Hirscher (Austria), Mario Matt (Austria), Felix Neureuther (Germany)

How U.S. fared: Nolan Kasper was 18th, exactly 2 seconds back, after the first run. David Chodounsky did not finish.

That left all eyes on Ted Ligety, the giant slalom gold medalist. His World Cup slalom results aren’t special — no better than sixth in the last four years. He hadn’t finished the slalom in 2006 or 2009. But after one run, he was a solid sixth, just 0.11 seconds out of the medal places. He quipped to the camera that it was better than he expected.

Kasper had a rough patch early in the second run but made it down, which is more than could be said for many. He was fifth among the first 13 skiers to go, one place behind University of Denver alumnus Leif Kristian Haugen of Norway.

And Kasper would be the only U.S. skier to finish. Ligety was in trouble from the early going and finally slid out. He tried to hike back up but couldn’t resurrect his run.

When the course kicked out several favorites, Kasper climbed up to 13th overall.

What happened: The tough course took out six of the top 30 in the first run, including Benjamin Raich, fellow Austrian Reinfried Herbst and surprise giant slalom medalist Steve Missillier. The leaderboard was filled with favorites — Mario Matt first, Sweden’s Andre Myhrer 0.45 seconds back in second, then Germany’s Felix Neureuther, France’s Alexis Pinturault and Austria’s Marcel Hirscher clustered in seventh through ninth.

The surprises were tied for third — Sweden’s Mattias Hargin at least has a recent World Cup podium, which Italy’s Stefano Gross hasn’t done in two years. France’s Jean-Baptiste Grange, in fifth place, won the 2011 World Championship in the midst of a superb World Cup season but hadn’t been on the podium in a few years. Then Ligety, a giant slalom monster but better in the speed events than slalom.

Croatia’s Ante Kostelic, Ivica’s father, somehow drew the assignment of setting the course for the second run again, just as he did in the combined. Would anyone finish? The first three skiers failed, and the fourth had to hike back up the hill to make a gate. Six of the first 15 went out.

With the course chewing up the field, someone would have a chance to move up the standings with a good run. Through 21 skiers, the leader was 19-year-old Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen, who has four World Cup podiums in a breakout season.

Hirscher took a big dent out of that. He extended his 0.51-second lead over Kristoffersen in the first run to 0.55 seconds.

Then came Pinturault, going out of control but fast in the early going. He kept going fast but also kept going out of control, eventually going airborne with his skis askew. He was out. Then Neurather went out. Then Ligety. Then Grange. Hargin made it down but slipped down the standings (and immediately skied out the athletes’ exit). Gross gave it a good run early but could only finish third with two skiers to go.

Myhrer, the 2012 World Cup champion and 2010 bronze medalist, came out aggressive. And almost immediately straddled a gate.

Mario Matt had a 1.28-second advantage over Hirscher after the first run. He went out conservatively, giving back a bit of time. But he was in control … and he did it. He gave back exactly one second, winning by 0.28 seconds.

Full results