What springs to mind when you picture the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi? Snow, skiing, sculpted athletic bodies and sporting success are probably some of the first images conjured up. Any globally renowned sporting competition features competitiveness, ambition and highly focused athletes who have spent the best part of their lives training and gearing up for each event. But, behind the scenes there are trainers, coaches, physiotherapists, sponsors, managers, dieticians and plenty others - as well as, increasingly, data analysts.
It's no surprise that data analysis plays a role in the average sporting competition, whether analysing how your adversaries are performing, breaking down the tactics of the opposing football team or finding correlations between diet intake, times of the day and average speed. Any professional athlete and their manager will invest time and money analysing performance before and after their relevant sporting event - studying technique from a biomechanical perspective, trying to pinpoint skill versus luck, defining characteristics and criteria of winning athletes and more. That is where they can truly gain a competitive advantage.
So, we all know that sporting athletes have managers, coaches, physiotherapists, sponsors, dieticians and other supporting forces in their lives. We wonder if the best athletes, those who regularly win gold, silver and bronze, also boast data analysts among their team?
One way to look into this is by letting sports fans have a go at their own data analysis. Nothing brings out our competitive nature better than by tapping into our patriotism after all, and these Global Games tournaments certainly provide a good opportunity to get behind and cheer on your country.
With a specially created Winter Games app, sport enthusiasts (and patriots) can visualise, analyse, compare and contrast the extensive history and results of all the Winter Games over the years. Did you know, for instance, that Norway currently holds the most medals at the Winter Games with 306, and the athlete with the most medals is cross-country skier Bjørn Dæhlie with 12 - also from Norway?
Many may take that to mean that Norway is the country to back this year, but further data analysis reveals that Liechtenstein has won more medals per capita than any other nation, with nine medals so far, all in Alpine skiing.
Whether surprisingly or not, the countries with the most gold medals in the Winter Games are from the Northern Hemisphere (although the Winter Games have also only been held in the Northern Hemisphere so far).
In the same vein, this data analysis also allows fans to cheer themselves up by comparing their countries to those that haven't historically done so well. Great Britain is one example of this, with its best medal haul over 100 years ago, in 1908, and overall performance generally declining.
Any athlete will confirm that half the battle is having the right mindset when it comes to delivering a sterling (or even golden) performance. They can have all the best managers, coaches, dieticians and the most finely honed bodies, but if they think they can't win, they're unlikely to. The more they can remove elements of luck from the game, through data analysis and the addition of data scientists to their teams, the better-placed they will be to focus on the end result and that gold medal.
Previously there may have been alternative routes taken to enhance performance and guarantee a gold or silver medal for your country. With the rise of big data and freely available information, in tandem with advanced technologies and intuitive tools, anyone can legally look for ways to gain that competitive advantage. All it takes is some data analysis and that athletic determination.
By making this data analysis freely available to sporting fans all over the world, I hope that they can lend their support to their country's athletes to spur them on into winning. The rallying cry of supporters is well-known as a boost to those on the track, mountain, or in the skating hall - in many a case helping to push the athlete's performance beyond his or her wildest imagination. By tracking how your favourite sporting hero or your own country is performing as the Winter Games progress, we should be able to prove that data analysis is as much as part of the process that leads to winning, as is luck, determination, all those years of training and the support of your country.