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Comparing Olympic and Paralympic performances

Wednesday 17 October 2018

OLYMPIC and Paralympic performances could be compared to provide an overall ranking, thanks to a technique developed at the University of Salford.

If implemented, it could help to raise the profile of Paralympic athletes and put their results into proper context alongside their able bodied counterparts. There is no suggestion that the two competitions should be merged.

In new research published in the Journal of the Operational Research Society, Professor David Percy of the University of Salford Business School, lays out the technique, which could provide integration between the competitions and enable overall gold, silver and bronze medals to be awarded, or a ranking produced, on top of the medals as they are already. It could also be used to compare results between men and women, from different eras or even from different sports, to provide overall best ever rankings. 

Using dynamic shrinkage techniques, performances are compared throughout a competition to give improved reliability of the results. The averages of all results are taken to provide a starting point and then whichever results stand out most from these averages are the best performances.  Past performances are not taken into account as they are now for some Paralympic events, as they can distort the picture. The method works for any results where timings, distances or points are involved in determining the winner, so running races and throwing events in the Summer Olympics, and skiing and snowboarding in the Winter Olympics could all use it.

Professor Percy said: “It is a debate that has raged for many years. Who are the best performers in various sports? The issue we have at the moment is that handicapping can’t take into account a lot of factors that affect the outcome such as weather or track conditions. Using dynamic shrinkage we take those out of the equation as the only results that matter are from the current event.

“This technique offers a fair method for comparing performances by athletes from diverse groups, with potential benefits for allowing incentives and rewards. Most importantly perhaps this could help raise the profile of Paralympic athletes and help them to get the recognition that their achievements and efforts deserve.

“I’m not suggesting integration but merely a system that will allow us to compare performances and put them in a proper context. It will allow us to see just how special some Paralympic performances are.”

As part of his research, Professor Percy looked at the London 2012 Summer Games, including the dressage event from both the Olympics and Paralympics. If his technique had been applied, Charlotte Dujardin would still have won gold but the silver medal would have gone to Paralympic athlete Sophie Christiansen, with the bronze to another able bodied competitor. 

Professor Percy adds: “This could be used to increase cooperation between the Olympics and Paralympics.

“This technique is very flexible. It could also be used to compare male and female performers in the same sports to come up with an overall ranking. All sorts of comparisons are available that have been the subject of pub debates down the years.”

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Sam Wood

0161 295 5361