Gender differences in ski jumping at the Olympics

I had a discussion with some friends the other day about separate sports competitions for men and women. In some sports, like curling, it seems rather unnecessary to have separate competitions. At least assuming the reason for gendered competitions is that being a male or a female may give the competitor an obvious advantage. One sport where we didn’t think it was obvious was ski jumping, so I decided to look at some numbers.

This year’s Olympics was the first time women competed in ski jumping so decided to do a quick comparison of the results from the final round in the men’s and women’s final.

This is what I came up with:

What we see are the estimated distributions for the jump distances for men and women. The mode for the women seems to be a little lower than the mode for the men. We also see that there is much more variability among the women jumpers than among the men and that the women’s distribution have a longer right tail. Still, it looks like the best female jumpers are on par with the best male jumpers and vice verca.

The numbers I used here are not adjusted for wind conditions and other relevant factors, so I will not draw any firm conclusions. I hope to have time to look more into this later, using data from more competitions, adjusting for wind etc.

The minimum violations ranking method

One informative benchmark when ranking and rating sports teams is how many times the ranking has been violated. A ranking violation occurs when a team beats a higher ranked team. Ideally no violations would occur, but in practice this rarely happens. In many cases it is unavoidable, for example in this three team competition: Team A beats team B, team B beats team C, and team C beats team A. In this case, for any of the 6 possible rankings of these three teams at least one violation would occur.

Inspired by this, one could try to construct a ranking with as few violations as possible. A minimum violations ranking (MVR), as it is called. The idea is simple and intuitive, and has been put to use in ranking American college sport teams. The MinV ranking by Jay Coleman is one example.

MV rankings have some other nice properties other than being just an intuitive measure. A MV ranking is the best ranking in terms of backwards predictions. It can also be a method for combining several other rankings, by using the other rankings as the data.

Despite this, I don’t think MV rankings are that useful in the context of football. The main reason for this is that football has a large number of draws and as far as I can tell, a draw has no influence on a MV ranking. A draw is therefore equivalent with no game at all and provides no information.

MV rankings also has another problem. In many cases there can be several rankings that satisfies the MV criterion. This of course depends on the data, but it seems nevertheless to be quite common, such as in the small example above.

Unfortunately, I have not found any software packages that can find a MV ranking. One algorithm is described in this paper (paywall), but I haven’t tried to implemented it myself. Most other MVR methods I have seen seem to be based on defining a set of mathematical constraints and then letting some optimization software search for solutions. See this paper for an example.