Whether you’re a Team USA bobsledder or a business process analyst, your pursuit of excellence involves grit, discipline, and an unwavering dedication to achieving goals that at first might seem impossible. That tenacity can get you to the finish line, but it’s only one part of a much bigger picture. Winning requires many innate strengths, and increasingly, there’s one superpower that informs all the rest: data.
As Apolo Ohno, champion speedskater and eight-time U.S. Olympic medalist, observed, “When I competed in my first Olympic Winter Games, data was there…as we began to grow in the sport, data became a superpower.”
It should be no surprise that sports organizations, such as many of the teams comprising Team USA, are embracing data. They are keenly aware of the advantages that come from leveraging analytics.
While each team is on its own, unique data journey (sound familiar?), the sentiment across Team USA is unanimous: data matters, and data analytics are playing a bigger role in how teams are making decisions and improvements to their programs.
That’s why we collaborated with Team USA to create a series of rich, interactive dashboards. Built in the end-to-end analytics platform Tableau, each dashboard, or visualization, offers new ways to see and understand aspects of these sports, and drive new appreciation for the remarkable and complex efforts that are required to go for the gold.
Here are a few selected highlights, with takeaways you can apply in business.
Strategic pivot puts US Speedskating on the podium
Risk/reward can be a very nuanced calculation. Just how much can a process be re-engineered to achieve an improved outcome? For US Speedskating team pursuit, the answer is: completely.
The team pursuit event is literally a race with tradeoffs. Traditionally, three teammates trade positions as the lead skater, allowing the other two to benefit from the reduced wind resistance as they draft behind. At designated transition points, the lead changes. A winning finish means all three skaters from one team have crossed the line ahead of the other teams.
For US Speedskating, winning in team pursuit was an elusive goal. To gain an advantage, they needed to find a way to optimize their racing strategy. As they took a closer look at their athletes to determine how to create the strongest pursuit team possible, everything was on the table.
According to US Speedskating executive director Ted Morris, the process started when they asked, “What do we have? Do we have the athletes that we need to actually be competitive in this event?” Working with an aerodynamics expert, they began modeling, giving each athlete a rating, or an “energy availability.” The models indicated that the team didn’t have the horsepower needed to compete with the best teams. It was this realization that resulted in an unprecedented, if not entirely unorthodox idea: What if they didn’t transition skaters at all?
The “what-if?” story is the story behind this visualization. As a result of modeling their data, the team adopted a new “push model”. The model is based on the idea that absent a transition—that is, keeping the same skater in the front position for the entire race, aided by the other two skaters pushing from behind—critical time is saved because there is no additional wind resistance or energy expenditure from skaters moving to the back position. How’s this for an interesting analogy: the data showed that the team could save the equivalent of one hamburger’s worth of energy per hour with this new approach.
The team’s motivation to harness data to create success is paying off. Three years into this revolutionary experiment, US Speedskating is winning.
“It’s been really cool to see that we have the data behind how we came to the energy numbers and then how we put the models together, and we can filter three people in and predict times based upon the way they perform that event,” said Morris.
Insight: Re-imagining what’s possible, with a data-centric mindset, can be game-changing. And, when you commit to developing the talent at your disposal, it’s possible for everyone to grow and achieve new levels of success.
U.S. Figure Skating jumping big
If you’re a fan of figure skating, you’ve seen firsthand how exceptional athletic skills and artistry result in heart-pounding moments of beauty on the ice—and these performances are rewarded with top scores for the athletes. But what does a skating routine look like from an analytics point of view? If you could see, at a granular level, how skill levels have grown over time, what would that data story tell you?
That’s just what happens in this visualization. Analyzing scoring and jumping data, it’s possible to see the importance of quad jumps (that is, jumps with four rotations), and their importance to how a routine is scored. Safe to say that a 1013% increase in quad jumps, seen from an analysis of ten years of data, reveals a significant trend!
Insight: Understanding the elements of success makes it possible to set goals, build on your strengths, and find your competitive advantage.
The start determines the finish in USA Luge
The phrase “there’s no room for error” accurately describes the world of luge. What happens at the start, to the millisecond, determines the outcome. In a sport known as the “Formula 1 of sledding,” the start is the most important moment. At the start, the athlete has complete control over the acceleration of their sled. From that point on, the forces of friction and gravity become dominant factors.
In this visualization we can see, by analyzing start and interval times, that racers gain a distinct edge on their competition by having a clean start. In fact, a .01-second advantage can translate to a .03-second advantage at the finish line. While skill on the course is a given, you can also see by comparing interval times that it becomes highly unlikely a racer can compensate for a poor start.
Insight: To finish strong, you need to start even stronger. Knowing how to optimize those critical, early moments can make the difference between achieving your desired outcome, or missing the opportunity entirely.