Speed Skating is a major sport in the Netherlands. The KNSB has over 80,000 members and the country leads the world when it comes to the elite end of the sport.
The KNSB obviously wanted the best achievable medal haul at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sotsji. The complication was that the 18 male and 18 female starting positions across the speed skating events could be filled by a maximum 10 skaters.
So the KNSB had to prioritize the distances/starting positions where the probability of success was highest. This also meant having to compare performances at different distances (e.g. a 500m sprinter with a 10,000m skater).
Bertus Talsma (ORTEC Sports) and Gerard Sierksma (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen) developed a statistical model that the KNSB selection committee first used in 2009. By 2014 the KNSB knew the model could provide a robust factual basis for its highly sensitive decisions.
In fact, the entire skater selection procedure for the Games was one of the topics in Bertus’ thesis, for which he was awarded his PhD in November 2013.
The performance matrix (or Selection Order) was a list of 18 starting positions that Dutch skaters could fill at Sotsji. To determine which 10 male and 10 female skaters filled the matrix and went to the Games, ORTEC TSS and the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen developed a statistical simulation model that, based on previous results, calculates the win probabilities of Dutch skaters at each distance. Based on these results they advised the Selection committee, who then determined the final selection order.
Making the difference
For the selection committee, the performance matrix was a vital supporting tool for their final decisions. Providing objective win probabilities showing which distances should be prioritized.
The bottom line
In Sotsji, the Dutch Speed Skating team won 23 (8 Gold, 7 Silver, 8 Bronze) of the 32 available medals. Making it the most successful team in Olympic speed skating history with surely one of the most dominant performances, certainly by a small country, in any sport at any Games.
Of course the athletes delivered the incredible performances. But at ORTEC, we’re proud to feel that we did our bit. And happily the Dutch press agrees: “Dutch National TV
website article” (in Dutch).