Rio 2016 – Projecting The Olympic Heptathlon Results

Multi-event sports demand a multitude of skills. In the case of the Heptathlon, athletes strive to find the perfect balance between strength, speed and endurance, but there’s usually a trade-off between the specific events. This makes it exciting for the viewer, as the lead can change hands several times throughout the competition and in some cases can be decided on the final event.

With the Olympic Heptathlon kicking off today with the 100m Hurdles, we decided to see if we could predict in what positions and what points the athletes will be on after each event, to get a clearer picture of how the competition will progress.

The events of the heptathlon run in the following order.

1. 100m Hurdles

2. High Jump

3. Shot Put

4. 200m

5. Long Jump

6. Javelin

7. 800m

Initially, we looked at when athletes produce their personal best performances. Around 50% of the time an athlete will produce a personal best in an event during the Olympic year and around 15% of the time this will come at the Olympics. This shows that they are training to be at their peak levels for the Olympics.

We decided to take 18 of the top 20* Heptathlon athletes and examine their results for the year and their personal best performances in order to try and predict how the Olympic Heptathlon will go. The first area we analysed was personal bests; we looked at who would win if each athlete produced their best performance at each event throughout the competition. The results were as follows:

For most, it won’t be surprising that Jessica Ennis-Hill would come out on top if everyone produced their personal bests in each events. One factor to consider in the above is that she is now one of the older athletes in the field and has had more time to improve her personal bests in each event. For example, five of her seven personal bests came from four years ago or older, with one achieved as far back as 2007. So in reality, the results from above are not going to happen. It’s far more likely something that resembles this season’s results will play out.

We’ve collected the results for each athlete in each of the events from this season. The calculation for the projection is to use 25% of the athlete’s personal best, 50% of their season’s best and 25% of their season’s average result. This takes into account that they will be peaking for the Olympics and also accounts for them not quite reaching their best or even their season’s best.

This is how we think the events could go.

After the 100m Hurdles

After the High Jump

After the Shot Put

After the 200m

After the Long Jump

After the Javelin

After the 200m

Here we’ve plotted the points difference we expect the top eight athletes to be above the last placed competitor.

This really demonstrates the trade-off between events and how different the ways the athletes get to almost the same points score. Barbara Nwaba for example, is a well-rounded athlete who can do well in most events but doesn’t really excel in any, whereas Katarina Johnson-Thompson is probably the best in the world at the jumping events but as of yet hasn’t shown she’s powerful enough with the throwing events.

So our predictions show a Gold medal for Great Britain and Jessica Ennis-Hill retaining her Olympic title fairly comfortably, with Brianne Theisen-Eaton and Laura Ikauniece-Admidina coming second and third respectively. This would leave Katarina Johnson-Thompson in fourth and Nafissatou Thiam fifth. However, it’s worth pointing out that the throwing events and to some extent the Long Jump are quite variant, which means if an athlete only has two results for that this year and one is bad, it will have a 12.5% effect on the athlete’s score for the event.

We see this as the case for Katarina Johnson-Thompson in the Shot Put where she only has two results, and the Long Jump where her one bad performance (due to injury) really dragged down her average. Additionally, her single 800m result came at the same competition where she was injured.

Another interesting athlete is Akela Jones, who this year has set personal bests in all seven events. She’s a complete outsider with the bookmakers at 33/1 to finish in the top three, but you can see from our predictions that we have her in the top three right up until the 800m. Her only two 800m times this year have both been above 2 minutes 25 seconds, so of all the events to improve, the 800m might be the easiest when coming from something quite off the pace as Jones is. If she could get her time down to 2 minutes 18 seconds, which should be achievable for athletes of this level, then she would be right among the medals.

In summary, we expect the medals to be contested by Jessica Ennis-Hill, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, Laura Ikauniece-Admidina and Katarina Johnson-Thompson, with Akela Jones having an outside chance of a medal finish – which we think would probably only happen if two from above had some disappointing events. However, she’s definitely one to watch for the future.

*We were only able to obtain data for 18 of the top 20.