What Makes A 2016 Olympic Champion? (Updated 2015 Formula Version)

One of our most popular posts of last fall was a mathematical predictor of exactly what times would be needed to reach each level at the 2016 Olympic Games based on the trajectories of each individual event.

A year has passed since that piece, and its creators have tweaked their formula to come up with an updated set of predictions with less than a year to go before the Rio Olympics.

The predictive model is called “Swimnex,” and is the brainchild of Joshua Neuloh and Thomas Kothe. 

Among the touted success of this model at the 2012 Olympic Games included predicting the World Record race by Cameron can der Burgh within a difference of three-tenths of a second and forecasting the way through the stages of the women’s 50 free by an “average error of just .01%.”

Neuloh and Kothe were kind enough to share their data with SwimSwam and our readers, and you can compare the newly-projected times to their 2014 counterparts by following this link to last year’s story.

The predictive formula produces expected times for a range of placements at the 2016 Olympics, including:

  • Champion
  • Medalist
  • Finalist
  • Semi Finalist

While Neuloh wouldn’t reveal his full methodology, he looked at thousands of race results and tried to find patterns and account for various influencing factors. The data going into the predictions is vast, which explains why the changes between the 2014 and 2015 projections are very minimal.

Here are a few of the more notable changes from last year’s numbers:

  • The men’s 100 free predictions have gotten quite a bit slower at the top. That’s an event ruled by uncertainty, with names like James Magnussen and Yannick Agnel both dealing with injuries for the 2015 World Championships season.
  • The men’s 1500 projections actually got faster compared to 2015. The relative youth in that event (World Champ Gregorio Paltrinieri is 21, silver medalist Connor Jaeger is rising at 24, Junior World Record-holder Mack Horton is 19) might help explain the shift.
  • The men’s 100 fly is both up and down. The projections to make the final are now slightly faster, but the projection for medaling is slower. The 100 fly is a deep event with the rise of Chad le Clos and the return of Michael Phelpsplus outsiders like Joseph Schooling and steady forces like Laszlo Cseh.
  • Both the women’s 400 and 800 free projections have gotten faster, but it’s likely Katie Ledecky still blows both out of the water. It’s hard for a purely statistical analysis to account for someone who transcends sport history the way Ledecky does.
  • The women’s 200 back winning prediction has gotten a tick slower, but still projects a new world record. The women’s 100 fly winning time also got slower and is now just a hair off Sarah Sjostrom‘s 2015 world record.
  • The winning times in both the women’s 4×200 free relay and 4×100 medley relays have slipped a little from their 2014 projections, but would both still be world records.

The new Swimnex table:

Swimnex table rio 2016

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5 years ago

Overall not bad predictions. Men’s 100 free is a little on the fast side though

bad anon
5 years ago

Outside Missy Franklin ; don’t. see anyone breaking 2.05 in.the 200back. Don’t think it will take 59.00 to make w100 backstroke final ; maybe 59.5 +/-. Men 200 free predictions too fast. 1.44 is hard to break; never mind a 1.42… Overall I think there margin of error will be acceptably low

Reply to  bad anon
5 years ago

Seebohm -2:03

5 years ago

Men 100 200 free wont happen. 400 and 1500 free medal times are difficult 1500 impossible I dare say. 400 im the winner time will be slower than the medal time or at best the same. The mens relays medal times are absurd. The others are possible

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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