In February I wrote about a Tableau report that didn’t necessarily predict race outcomes for the World Championships but helped inform people to make better predictions or guesses. I still believe it helps to know who’s hot and not (recent race results), previous race results at the venue and discipline, and current standing in the World Cup, but I ran into a website that has built a model to predict race and season outcomes, and their results are interesting, to say the least.
When you consider how unpredictable biathlon can be, any decent results from a model are impressive if you ask me. In this article they describe how their model did against reality, and the results were good in many cases. In addition they have more articles evaluating their performance, and I would agree that they did well.
But models remain exactly that, models. And I am sure if the IBU held 150,000 races the reality would be closer to the models. But that’s the beauty of sport and biathlon: we don’t run the races that many time, so we have to consider the form of the day, athletes feeling sick but still participating, harder and softer snow conditions during the race, a loud crowd at the shooting range (remember those days?!?), etc. we can go and on about external qualitative factors that can, and will, impact race results. If a model predicts Laegreid to challenge for the yellow bib, and Hauser to win a specific race, I think they are on to something worth checking out.
I’m no betting person so I don’t see myself using it for that purpose ever, although I did participate in a fun fantasy game that relies on race predictions to determine the “most knowledgable biathlon person”. But in line with the dashboard I created myself, I think the model does a good job providing additional information that can help inform predictions, and also give more insight into biathlon and its athletes. And in the end, I’m happy it doesn’t predict race results with 95% certainty, as that would quickly end my interest in biathlon altogether!
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