TORINO: ALPINE: THE NUMERICAL TRUTH BEHIND USA’S OLYMPIC ALPINE “CRASH”Bode Miller isn’t the only skier who has said Olympic medals are a superficial barometer of skiing success. All top racers say that the World Cup scoring system, a graduated scale that awards points to the top 30 in a race, is a better reflection of reality.
If the Olympics were scored like World Cup races, the U.S. Ski Team would still be in second place behind Austria among nations competing in Torino. They are second-best in the world, but it’s more complicated than that.
With eight of 10 races completed at these Games, skiracing.com has dropped those results into our advanced software systems – still humming along in the Vermont woods – and determined which teams are hot in Torino and which teams are not. Call it an Olympic Nations Cup.
Austria has scored 1,308 theoretical points so far in Torino’s alpine races. USA is second with 645 and Switzerland third with 576.
Compare that to the World Cup, the regular circuit that is in hiatus during these Games; in that nation-by-nation tally, Austria leads with 12,273 points to USA’s 4,890 and Italy’s 3,602.
If you are not familiar with the World Cup scoring system, each race winner gets 100 points, with 80 going to the runner-up, 60 to third, and so on, down to the 30th racer, who gets one point.
In the lists that are posted below, we took the top 10 in each Nations Cup – the real World Cup version and our own private Olympics version – and added up the total points. For simplicity’s sake, we’ve pretended it is a 10-nation contest (sorry Czech Republic).
On the World Cup, Austria has taken 34 percent of the total points available, and at the Olympics it has gathered only 26 percent. Meanwhile the USA has taken the exact same percentage of the points both on the World Cup and in Torino: 13 percent.
It would appear, then, that the U.S. Ski Team is doing OK at these Olympics (earning 1 point for every 2.03 that the Austrians have earned here, as opposed to the 1 to 2.5 ratio in the World Cup season).
It would appear, then, that the Americans’ dearth of medals is compensated by their numerous top-20’s.
Not so fast. The Olympics results are deceiving, because Austria can send only four athletes per discipline to the Games, instead of 10 or more. Missing from the men’s speed-event start lists were names such as Andreas Schifferer, Andreas Buder and Stephan Goergl – guys who regularly collect points on the World Cup.
While those guys might not have been medal contenders, chances are pretty decent that at least one of them could have bumped Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves lower than fifth and 10th in the men’s downhill.
And while finishing 20th or 30th on the World Cup scores you a few points (11 points or 1, respectively, to be exact), it doesn’t mean a whole lot at the Olympics.
In the men’s GS, for instance, Ukraine, Georgia and Brazil cracked the top 30. These guys have Olympic spirit, and skiracing.com loves what they do, but they’re not the fellas USSA’s president Bill Marolt was hoping to knock off when he came up with the ‘Best in the World’ slogan.
The numbers also tell another story; while everyone’s beating up on the American team, check out Italy. The home team has tanked at these Games, compared to its performance over the World Cup season. In the World Cup, Italy has scored 10 percent of the points, but at the Olympics it has just 7 percent (remember: this is with us using the top-10 nations’ combined points as the ‘total available’).
A drop from 10 percent to 7 doesn’t sound like much, but Italy can’t fall back on the injury excuse that the Americans surely have a right to use. And it certainly doesn’t show the Italians capitalizing on the way four-man quotas have depleted Austria’s ranks.
France seems to have taken advantage of Italy’s bad luck. On the World Cup, the French have taken only 5 percent of the points, but at the Olympics they’ve nabbed 8 percent.
France and Italy are teams that can more or less send all of their contenders to the Olympics. The Italian men’s giant slalom squad might be an exception, deep enough to have left a few good guys at home in, uh, Italy.
Switzerland has done pretty well too, taking 11 percent of the ‘total’ points at the Olympics, as opposed to 9 percent on the World Cup circuit. The Swiss racers who have medaled here – Bruno Kernen, Ambrosi Hoffmann and Martina Schild – have been absent from the podium on the World Cup this year.
Those three have really risen to the occasion. But medals don’t mean everything.
THE REAL WORLD CUP NATIONS CUP STANDINGS (through Feb. 4, 2005)
THE FAKE OLYMPICS NATIONS CUP STANDINGS (through eight of 10 races)