Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Back to the Future - Checking up on the Olympic predictions

Immediately after I posted last week's honest slogans article, Brooke Geery from the YoBeat, dropped me a message to let me know that she'd LOL'd, then she had a stab at predicting the number of people who would read it. Her prediction was eerily spot-on, which means she's clearly some sort of internet witch. It got us wondering how good normal people are at predictions, because although everyone loves making predictions, usually no one bothers to check the results. We figured the best way to check was to see how different people's predictions panned out at the 'Lympics...

Here are the guys that thought they'd have a shot at predicting the snowboarding medals:

SkyBet (The bookie) - Representing the professional side of sports predictions and part of Rupert Murdock's evil project to rinse even more money out of the victims of his sinister media empire.

Bleacher Report (The internet content production machine) - In their efforts to trawl for readership they managed to churn out a full article before each and every Olympic event. Each article was written by a different poorly paid writer with no apparent background in snowboarding. (The not-as-successful internet content production machine) - They just managed one article written by Jeremy Freeborn from Calgary, who spends 99% of his time writing about ice hockey and the rest predicting Olympic snowboarding results

Todd Richards (The insider) - Former snowboard pro and the mouthpiece of NBC's Olympic snowboard coverage, he's here representing snowboardkind.

Sport Myriad (The mentalist) - Beau Dure, a former sport journalist and now apparently mid-breakdown, writes this site under the tagline "More sports than are dreamed of in your philosophy". Fuck only knows what that's all about.

Sports Unbiased (The local) - The site of Zach Bigalke,  a man who hales from Jackson Hole, Wyoming and author of the book no one is talking about; Dispatches from Vancouver: A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America's View of the XXI Winter Olympiad.

Infostrada Sports (The robot) -  The self-proclaimed "world leader in sports data", they've apparently built a super-computer, which produces predictions that they flog to businesses. Will computers put all the human predictors out of work?

Associated Press (The journalistic big guns) - These guys have been gathering the news and syndicating it to media companies since 1846, and that's before snowboarding was even invented! Over that time they've amassed 51 Pulitzers, although it's not clear how many of those were for soothsaying.


Sports Illustrated (Visual exploiters of women)

Let's see how they did. 

Predictions by event...

Lesson 1 - No one was able to predict the men's snowboard cross. It's just an extreme version of playing scissors, paper, stone. If you're a gambling man and you want to win big on the Olympic boardercross event, you're probably best just entering the event itself and seeing if you can do a Bradbury.

At the other end of the scale were the women's slopestyle and parallel grand slalom finals where there were a few hits. Let's take a look at them in a bit more detail to see what went on there.

Predictions by rider...

Lesson 2 - Jamie Anderson's win was uncannily predicable. Her win in the slopestyle was predicted by all but one of the writers and the one close prediction was also for her (Sports Unlimited thought she'd get silver). Interestingly no one predicted either of the other medallists in her event. You've got as much chance predicting a Jamie Anderson win as trying to predict any one of the top three finishers in any other event.

Lesson 3 - Shaun White missing out in the medals was statistically the biggest surprise. We all knew that, but it's just interesting to get the statistical confirmation.

Lesson 4 - Never bet on Lindsey Jacobellis in the Olympics. When will people learn?

Predictions by predictor...

Lesson 5 - All the money and clever techniques don't predict things any better than the guesses of some random blokes. (See above - Bunch of people making guesses on the left, bunch of big number crunching companies on the right). It's particularly interesting to see how poor the Infostrada results were, getting beaten by a succession of people who knew next to nothing about snowboarding*.

* The Examiner might have outperformed them too if they hadn't, by mistake, predicted the same medallists for the women's halfpipe that they did for the women's parallel grand slalom.

Lesson 6 - The bookmaker was the worst predictor, but they still win anyway. Because that's how gambling works suckers.

Lesson 7 - Todd Richards wins. You knew he would right? Even then he didn't do all that well, because...

Lesson 8 - Everyone was awful...

Overall predictions...

Despite having 219 punts between them, 30% of the eventual medallists weren't picked up at all by the predictors. The winner of the women's halfpipe, Kaitlyn Farrington, didn't get a mention, Vic Wild who won 20% of all the snowboard Olympic gold medals, was only mentioned three times in passing, and only the Bleacher Report had Sage Kotsenburg in their top three.

But that's only part of the overall story, here's the overview...

That's one big Pac Man of rubbish predicting. You have more chance of striking out entirely than of guessing any medallist and you've got next to no chance of predicting the winner. Next time you read a predictions article just bear in mind that statistically it's going to be bullshit, unless it's predicting an event Jamie Anderson is in, or if it was Brooke doing the predicting. In either of those two cases it's as good as fact and you might as well bet your kid's inheritance on it.

You Might Also Like...

A review of Todd Richard's autobiography, which includes the best anecdote in snowboarding history.

Some more brilliantly inaccurate future predictions from Popular Science magazine.

If anyone wants to look at the data, it's available here.

1 comment:

  1. So you're telling me Shakespeare is dead?

    Thanks for including me in the comparison. You're right -- this is a tough sport to predict.


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