How One Olympic Historian Is Going for Data Gold in Sochi
Think the biggest challenge at the Sochi Winter Olympics will be the snowboad stunts or death-defying ski jumps? Try doing the work of an Olympic historian whose hobby is to collect and store the loads of data that Olympic athletes generate.
During the 2012 Summer Olympics alone, more than 200 hundred nations competed in 300 events. And since the beginning of the modern Olympics in 1896, there have been 20 Winter Games and 26 Summer Games. Needless to say, that’s a lot of names, distances and world records to track. From the stone tablets used to immortalize winners during the ancient times, to the newsprint and hard drives of the modern games, the Olympics might be the biggest data storage challenge in sporting history.
Stone Tablets to Bits & Bytes
Bill Mallon would know. He’s the author of more than 20 books about the Olympic Games, former president of the International Society of Olympic Historians and the founder of OlyMADMen, a society of Olympic historians and statisticians. Mallon has compiled Olympic data from local archives and other sources since the early 1980s and served as a consultant statistician to the International Olympic Committee, which earned him the Silver Olympic Order in 2001.
Stone tablets might be good for posterity, but they’re not easily searchable by journalists or enthusiasts interested in Olympic data. Before the Internet, people would have to either visit local archives in host cities where games were held, or browse sports magazines and newspapers in libraries to access data. Mallon has travelled as far as Switzerland and France to scour local archives by, literally, sifting through boxes of documents.
That began to change following the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, Calif., when Olympic results were computerized for the first time.
“That was the beginning of the modern era,” says Mallon. “It was also the first time that the Olympics began to publish official results books that included lists of all of the competitors.”