How to Win Money by Predicting the Olympics

Statistics could help predict just how fast athletes will run and swim at this summer’s Olympics

Can you predict how fast these women will run the 100m hurdles? Math might.
Can you predict how fast these women will run the 100m hurdles? Math might. wwarby

Where there’s competition, there’s prediction. The upcoming Olympics are no exception, of course, as mathematicians, dudes in bars and ex-athletes alike are trying to predict who will win what. But can math predict the outcome of the Olympics? Wired says: maybe.

They uncovered the research of Filippo Radicchi, a scientist who tried to model the properties of what makes a winning performance at the Olympics. Wired excerpts what he found:

At each new edition of the Games, gold-medal performances get, on average, closer to the limiting performance value. The average positive improvement observed in historic performance data can be motivated by several factors: as time goes on, athletes are becoming more professionals, better trained, and during the season have more events to participate in; the pool for the selection of athletes grows with time, and, consequently there is a higher level of competition; the evolution of technical materials favors better performances. On the other hand, there is also a non null probability that winning performances become worse than those obtained in the previous edition of the Games (i.e., relative improvement values are negative). All these possibilities are described by a Gaussian distribution that accounts for various, in principle hardly quantifiable, factors that may influence athlete performances: meteorological and geographical conditions, athletic skills and physical condition of the participants, etc.

This prediction holds for a whopping 55 different events, which means there is some mathematical way to try and predict the outcome. So, what times should you bet on? The math says this:

How to Win Money by Predicting the Olympics
What the times for different events this summer might be. Filippo Radicchi

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