Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bjørn Axel Gran tells about future of sport statistics in Orienteering

Bjørn Axel Gran is one of the most successful sport manager in club Orienteering. One of key person in Halden SK tells about future of sport statistics for club Orienteering.
Mike: You know, Bjaxel, that in game sports decisions about new contracts with athletes are primary based on the games statistics. E.g., key statistics in basketball are points (from different shooting positions or game situations), rebounds, assists, etc. In baseball/softball players estimation is based on batting, baserunning, pitching, fielding statistics. Different statistical indicators and indexes help to calculate overall game efficiency of particular player.

Actually using of sport statistics is the main way to evaluate skills of player and make assessment of his value and potential role in the team (or usefulness for some particular game situations).

There is no transfer market in Orienteering and decision about new runners are based on some mix of intuition, experience and opinions from other runners.

If I ask you: who is the best night relay runner, then probably you will say me about Olle Bostroem, Olexandr Kratov, or Anders Nordberg. Some other sport managers/coaches will create another list, but I am pretty sure that there is no certain ranking of best night leg runners; or most stable international relay runners; or technically strongest runners, etc. All what we have are just expert opinions and simple results analysis.

Bjaxel: I agree that the use of sport statistics (quantitative data) would provide a good support in decision processes (as transfer markets), but any decision would also depend upon the qualitative data on hand. I addressed this in my Ph.D. back in 2002 (The use of Bayesian Belief Networks for combining disparate sources of information in the safety assessment of software based systems, Thesis 2002:35, NTNU, Norway, 2002), and still claim that its conclusions has valid outside the field  of safety.

An example on that is the question “who is the best night relay runner”. On the first choice, people will base their reply (Olle Boström, Olexandr Kratov) based on available statistics for the latter years (performance on Tiomila and Swedish Champs). Unfortunate, people then also try to conclude too much out of a few events (Ref: Daniel Kahneman “Thinking, Fast and Slow”). I will claim that the best night runner is Emil Wingstedt, Olav Lundanes or Thierry Gueorgiou. The issue is that they are even more valuable at the end of a relay. The lack of statistics is here not the same as lack of performance. Further more, asking “who is the best night relay runner all times” would force you to think even more. Some people would reply Jarkko Houvila and Øystein Kristiansen, while other will say Sigurd Dæhli (Ref: NOF Adelskalender Natt)

Mike: What is your opinion about current situation with statistics arrangement in Orienteering?

Bjaxel: There exist some statistics (e.g. at NOF or Halden SK) but as there is no commercial need or interest in such statics it will be depending upon voluntary work to collect and update the data.

Mike: What kind of indicators, statistical aggregates/indexes, profile characteristics can we use in Orienteering (to make better information content in our sport and particularly help in sport management)?

Bjaxel: I agree with Olav Lundanes “most important is a complete results overview”. Good indicators are those that can be easily explained and easily collected. Too fancy or complicated indicators will be questioned due to their lack of comprehensibility. "% of splits within e.g. 10% of best time" should be easy to aggregate from the split databases.

Mike: I am pretty skeptical about IOF efforts in this direction. I am interested to start crowd-funding initiative for creating of new statistical/performance analysis tools in Orienteering (I am thinking about Jan Cobach like a main specialists). What do you think about perspectives of such initiative?

Bjaxel: I think other topics should be on the top priority for IOF, and I do not see why IOF should be the pushing force in establishing a such initiative. In other sports it is the commercial interests (fans) wish push it, see e.g. Thinking in this way, I would rather point at Eventor and SportIdent and similar providers of result databases. A first wish is that you could enter a result database and search on one or more athletes. Then I wish that the different result databases where linked together so that I could search across the databases.

Bjørn Axel Gran greets me as a new main coach in Halden Skiklubb (January 2011)

P.S. Title photo is from Halden SK site: Bjørn Axel Gran as HSK team leader has received Jukola message (2010)


Your opinion is important to set up priorities! Please, mark one or more points from list:
- Relay performance/skills
- Complete/detailed results overview, including historical statistics/ranking
- Statistics of different legs types 
- Pacing/speed analysis
- Safety/mistakes analysis 

Explanations and comments of these points you can read in the post Leonid Novikov tells about future of sport statistics in Orienteering.

Click button "ГОЛОСОВАТЬ" to VOTE.


  1. I think the International Federation (IOF) should be responsible for maintaining a historical database. Here you should be be able to extract various statistical information as discussed in this blog. By the way, this is how it is done in most other federations. SINGLE source, SINGLE responsibility!

  2. ... this also includes biographical data, by the way.