Women’s skeleton at Sochi: an interactive summary

Initial Motivation

As the heading suggests, this section discusses the motivation behind the article below. If you don't care, feel free to skip to the next section. Everything should still make sense.

I have sat through many (typically PowerPoint) presentations and read many printed non-fiction articles of one form or another. In both cases the person communicating - the presenter(s) or author(s) - is trying to pass on their knowledge, understanding, research results or opinion to their audience, whether the audience is sat listening in a conference room or reading an article at their desk.

In the case of a typical presentation, the presenter communicates their narrative orally and backs-up claims with slide content (possibly including some well-designed charts). For the author they present their narrative textually, sometimes with charts and tables to back-up claims made in the text. The presenter can augment their presentation with transient features - different slides, arrows, highlighting, physical gestures - while the author of a printed article cannot. Conversely, the consumer of the printed article can read the article at their own pace, ponder on something they find complex, reread a paragraph if they are confused and skip over bits that are irrelevant to whatever objective they have.

Clearly there are advantages and disadvantages with both modes of communication. This article aims to mix these positives together. It combines narrative text in the discussion section with an interactive chart. The reader can "play" with the chart at their own leisure but the text provides "links" to put the chart into a specific state that is relevant at that point in the text at which the link resides. We can take the good aspects of a textual article and combine with some of the useful transient features typical of a presentation to create something better. We just need a modern web browser.

Introduction

Great Britain isn't all that great at winter sports. But we are, it seems, quite good at skeleton. I contrived to miss the first day (and, therefore, the first two heats) of the women's skeleton at the Sochi Olympics but, knowing that we had a great chance of a medal I made sure to watch the second (and final) day of the competition. Lizzy Yarnold already had a lead of 0.44 s which, to put it in context, was bigger than gap between second and fifth.

Lizzy duly obliged and claimed the gold with an overall lead of nearly 1 s. But how good was she? (I was a bit confused as the BBC commentary of her final run suggested that it (her final run) had been disappointing. And yet she'd increased her overall lead.) How close were all the other athletes?

Using the data from the official Olympics site I created the chart below. You can click on any of the names/times in the list of results or any of the visible points, lines and names in the chart area to give focus to a competitor and see precise times. Click again on one of these items to remove focus. In the Discussion section below the chart, black underlined text provide links back to the chart with specific highlighting of the named competitor. To return to the last text element clicked, click on the title of the chart.

Results

Standings (mins:s): 1. Yarnold (3:52.89), 2. Pikus-Pace (3:53.86), 3. Nikitina (3:54.30), 4. Uhlaender (3:54.34), 5. Potylitsina (3:54.40), 6. Orlova (3:54.72), 7. Reid (3:54.73), 8. Huber (3:55.24), 9. Flock (3:56.03), 10. Griebel (3:56.12), 11. Hollingsworth (3:56.21), 12. Eustace (3:56.21), 13. Thees (3:56.23), 14. Steele (3:56.28), 15. Priedulena (3:56.28), 16. Rudman (3:56.47), 17. Chaffer (3:56.64), 18. Gilardoni (3:56.74), 19. Komuro (3:57.76), 20. Mazilu (3:58.62).

Heat 1 Heat 2 Heat 3 Heat 4 Average 3. Nikitina 2. Pikus-Pace 1. Yarnold 57.75 58.00 58.25 58.50 58.75 59.00 59.25 59.50 59.75 60.00 60.25 Time (s) Women's Skeleton Results, Sochi Olympics

Discussion

Something immediately noticeable from the chart, that I had missed while watching, is the dramatic drop in times for all racers between the two runs on the first day and the two runs on the second day. As such it is difficult to compare the times for heats on separate days in too much detail.

From the chart we can see that Yarnold's final run was, despite the concerns of the BBC commentators, the fastest of the heat (as her previous three runs had been). In fact, it was quicker than any run by any of her competitors. This is something that is probably not obvious from glancing at a table of results. It was only slow in comparison to her track-record-breaking, sub-58 s third run.

Silver was claimed by American Noelle Pikus-Pace, 0.97 s behind Yarnold. Her times were consistent, with the runs on the same days being separated by just 0.03 s on both days. Her rankings in individual heats were less consistent, finishing third, second, third and then fourth in the final run when she was beaten by Yarnold and Canadian pair Sarah Reid and Mellissa Hollingsworth who both registered 58.15 s. For Hollingsworth in particular, this was a massive improvement on her first run where she had finished exactly a second behind Pikus-Pace.

The fight for a bronze medal was much closer. Russian Elena Nikitina had come in just 0.05 s behind Yarnold in the first heat, the closest anyone would come to beating Yarnold in an individual run. But her second run dropped her back half a second. In the end she finished just 0.04 s ahead of the more consistent Katie Uhlaender in fourth and a tenth of a second ahead of fellow Russian Olga Potylitsina in fifth.

Britain's other slider, Shelley Rudman, who won silver at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, never really challenged and finished down in sixteenth.

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