Analytics in Giant Slalom

Global Sports News Sports

Moneyball, the best selling book, written by Michael Lewis, and popular movie follows the story of Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics in their 2002 season. The Athletic’s, with the smallest payroll of any major league team, figured out a way to compete with the wealthier teams by analyzing player statistics differently in order to identify the under valued players.

Moneyball theory changed baseball and many other sports. However, in skiing, specifically Giant Slalom, it hasn’t effected much.

Giant Slalom is an alpine skiing event that requires skiers to propel themselves down a steep, often icy, race course weaving between markers at speeds up to 95 miles per hour. The racer who reaches the bottom with the fastest time wins.

Zac Torng ’15, a giant slalom racer for the Catlin Gabel ski team, adds “Giant Slalom is the most physical discipline in ski racing because it combines a significant amount of turns while requiring the athlete to be highly active in each term.”

On the Catlin Gabel team all racers are required to race in the Giant Slalom event.

Ted Ligety, the fastest Giant Slalom racer in the world. (Photo: New York Times)
Ted Ligety, the fastest Giant Slalom racer in the world. (Photo: New York Times)

Giant Slalom racers are scored using a FIS (Federation of International Skiing) and USSA (United States Skiing Association) point systems. Both systems are used to compare ski racers from all around the world and allow a common metric to account for the different races, slopes, days, levels of competition and penalties – events resulting in non-activity (injuries, outside commitments, etc.).

The FIS and USSA scores ultimately calculates the official rank of competitors and establishes starting order.

According the the FIS and USSA scoring systems, the winner gets 0.00 points.

For the other competitors their score is calculated by this formula: P = (( Tr / Tw ) – 1 ) x F

The P variable represents race points. Tr represents the racer’s race time (in seconds). Tw represents the winner’s time (in seconds) and F is the constant for each discipline, Giant slalom is 980.
For example, if the winning time in GS were 2 minutes 46 seconds, a racer with the time of 2 minutes and 48 seconds would receive 3.983 FIS points because ((2.47/2.46) -1) x 980 = 3.983

An individual racer’s score is the average of the best two results in each disciple – this score will be posted on the USSA or FIS points list.

The current analytic system is very effective because it includes the key statistic, and clear measurement of success in the sport, the winning time.

Unlike in the baseball specific case illuminated by Moneyball, there is little room for improvement due to the individuality and lack of luck involved in the sport, allowing the metric system to be straightforward.

Though one could redefine success, adjusting the metric system to compare one’s scores against the fastest skier in the current racing field (Ted Ligety), this is a very temporary measurement because he will not always be the fastest skier in the field.

For more information about the sabermetrics involved with Moneyball theory check out the book, written by Michael Lewis, or the movie.

Ted Ligety celebrating after winning gold in 2006. (Photo: New York Times)
Ted Ligety celebrating after winning gold in 2006. (Photo: New York Times)

For more information about Giant Slalom, and Ted Ligety specifically, look at the video included that was produced by the New York Times during the Olympics.