Looking Back on Predictions for the Olympic Games, Part Two

Photo Courtesy: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports


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By David Rieder.

After day four of the Olympic Games in Rio, the Swimming World prediction machine was rolling. Part one of our predictions analysis showed that we nailed 12 of 16 winners in the first half of the Olympic swimming competition, including a clean sweep on day four.

Unfortunately, that magic was not to be continued. Read below to see what went wrong from day five through day eight.

Day Five: Not So Good

The trouble started promptly on day five. In the first event of the night, we picked Josh Prenot to win the men’s 200 breast. Prenot ended up with the silver, seven one-hundredths behind the man in lane eight, Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan—a nation which had never won an Olympic swimming medal. We did not predict one here, either.

Then there was the women’s 200 fly, and it should not have been too surprising to see Mireia Belmonte—the silver medalist four years ago—atop the medal podium. We did not pick Belmonte to get on the podium, but we did count on good swims from Madeline Groves and Natsumi Hoshi, both of whom were in our top three.

We picked Cameron McEvoy to win the 100 free and break a 48-year streak of Australian futility in the event. Of course, we had picked the Aussies to have won a lot of gold medals at this point, but “Advance Australia Fair” had played only twice all week up to that point and not at all since day one.

McEvoy proceeded to finish seventh—only for 18-year-old countryman Kyle Chalmers to win gold.

Order was finally restored in the last event of the night, as the American women won the 800 free relay. Missy Franklin was struggling, so the U.S. coaches subbed in Maya DiRado. Australia had a slight lead at 600 meters, but Katie Ledecky was anchoring for the Americans. The U.S. losing this relay would have been one of the bigger upsets of the Games. Thankfully, for the sake of our predictions, that did not happen.

Winners picked correctly: 1 of 4
Cumulative: 13 of 20

Day Six: “Did You Really Expect Us to Predict a Tie?”

So day five did not too well. Day six looked like a big rebound day—for a while. Rie Kaneto won the women’s 200 breast—as predicted—to start things off, and then came the men’s 200 back. We picked Mitch Larkin over Ryan Murphy, and the reverse happened, but that had seemed like a strong possibility with Murphy heading in with some momentum.

At that point, we felt good about the possibility of a three-for-four day. Michael Phelps had looked strong through the first two rounds of the 200 IM, and he walloped the field in that event on his way to a fourth-straight gold medal in the event—and Kosuke Hagino picked up the predicted silver.

Last but not least was the women’s 100 free. Cate Campbell was the overwhelming favorite, having broken the world record in the event a month earlier and set Olympic records in both the prelims and semifinals. After a rocky start, Campbell exploded, and she flipped well under her own world record pace at the 50.

And then with 15 meters to go, she fell apart, falling all the way to seventh. And it wasn’t Sarah Sjostrom winning the gold, or defending gold medalist Ranomi Kromowidjojo, or Cate’s World Champion sister Bronte Campbell. It was a tie.

A tie between Canada’s Penny Oleksiak and the USA’s Simone Manuel. Yeah, we missed that one. But at least Sjostrom—who we picked to medal—got the bronze.

Winners picked correctly: 2 of 4
Cumulative: 15 of 24

Day Seven: Upset City!

The penultimate day of Olympic swimming was, simply put, awesome. There was not really much time to collect one’s thoughts after each final because each ensuing race brought more stunning moments.

But swimming races are usually stunning because of either records or upsets. Ledecky broke her world record by two seconds in the 800 free—so we nailed that gold medal pick (but got the other two medalists wrong).

Our gold and silver medalist picks in the women’s 200 back (Emily Seebohm and Franklin) missed the final, and our bronze medal pick (Katinka Hosszu) was upset by Maya DiRado.

Minutes later, Joseph Schooling shocked the world when he took down Phelps in the 100 fly, leaving Phelps in a three-way tie for silver with Chad le Clos and Laszlo Cseh.

Yes, that’s correct—a third tie for an Olympic medal. Even one of those at an Olympics is statistically unlikely, let alone three. We picked Schooling, Phelps and le Clos to medal, and Cseh was clearly the next choice—after all, he came into the Olympics as the only man under 51 in the 100 fly this year. So that’s something, right?

And then there was the men’s 50 free, where heavy favorite Florent Manaudou lost to 35-year-old Anthony Ervin—who we did not pick to medal—by one one-hundredth. Obviously, Ervin’s comeback and his two gold medals 16 years apart was a great story—but that does not help our predictions record.

A fantastic night of swimming, and an awful night of predicting.

Winners picked correctly: 1 of 4
Cumulative: 16 of 28

Day Eight: USA Up, Swimming World Down

On the last night, we rebounded slightly, picking correctly the not-hard-to-pick men’s 1500 and men’s medley relay. Gregorio Paltrinieri entered with the top time in the world in the mile by five seconds, and it’s pretty difficult to pick against a medley relay with Murphy, Phelps and Nathan Adrian.

The women’s medley relay went to the Americans over Australia, and Denmark edged China for the bronze. The Australians looked to have a massive advantage on the anchor leg coming into the meet, but by the time this relay rolled around, Manuel had already won gold in the 100 free. Big advantage, USA. The Americans won by two seconds, even with a substandard effort from Lilly King on the breaststroke leg.

As for the women’s 50 free, that went to Pernille Blume by two one-hundredths over Manuel, who was another two one-hundredths ahead of Aliaksandra Herasimenia. That was the only race all week where none of our projected medalists (the two Campbell sisters and Kromowidjojo) made the podium.

Winners picked correctly: 3 of 4
Cumulative: 19 of 32

So in hindsight, our picks were downright mediocre. Unlike the Americans, of course, who won a whopping six gold medals that we did not predict and massively out-performed our projection of 12 gold medals. On the flip side, we picked the Australians for eight gold medals, and they won three.

But hey, at least we tried—right?