Heptathlon points system vs the omnium points system

The omnium is a multi-discipline track cycling event which has debuted at the Olympics this year. It is made up of six events (flying lap, points race, elimination race, individual pursuit, scratch race and time trial) and has a fairly simple point scoring system to determine overall placings: for each event the rider who places first scores 1 point, second 2 points, and so on, with the rider with the lowest total number of points across the 6 events being the winner.

In the men’s event, British rider Ed Clancy won the 1km time trial with a time of 1:00.981 (a time which would have won Olympic gold in the 1km time trial at the 2000 Olympics). This was over a second faster than all other riders in the omnium, a sizeable margin over such a short distance, but in the omnium the size of the margin is immaterial – Clancy only need have won by the smallest of measurable margins to still take just one point.

This had me wondering how the omnium might work differently if it were scored in the manner of the athletics multi-discipline events, the heptathlon and decathlon. In these events, heights, distances and times are converted into point scores according to a formula for each individual event. Basically, the faster you run/farther you throw/etc the more points you get. For the omnium, this would require the devising of a points system for each event. For the events contested against the clock (flying lap, individual pursuit, time trial) this would be feasible, but the performance of the riders in the bunch races (points race, elimination race, scratch race) is relative to one another, for example the results of the elimination race (in which the last placed rider is eliminated every 2nd lap) is simply a ranking. Thus for these races it would be difficult to devise a performance-based points system and so the ranking-based system makes sense.

However, we can apply the omnium points system to the results of the heptathlon at the 2012 Olympics. The different rankings (HR = heptathlon points system rankings, OR = omnium system rankings) are shown in this table (full spreadsheet here.)

Athlete HR OR
 Jessica Ennis (GBR) 1 1
 Lilli Schwarzkopf (GER) 2 2
 Tatyana Chernova (RUS) 3 4
 Lyudmyla Yosypenko (UKR) 4 3
 Austra Skujytė (LTU) 5 11
 Antoinette Nana Djimou Ida (FRA) 6 7
 Jessica Zelinka (CAN) 7 5
 Kristina Savitskaya (RUS) 8 6
 Laura Ikauniece (LAT) 9 10
 Hanna Melnychenko (UKR) 10 8
 Brianne Theisen (CAN) 11 9
 Dafne Schippers (NED) 12 13
 Nadine Broersen (NED) 13 16
 Jessica Samuelsson (SWE) 14 14
 Katarina Johnson-Thompson (GBR) 15 12
 Sharon Day (USA) 16 17
 Yana Maksimava (BLR) 17 19
 Eliška Klučinová (CZE) 18 20
 Ellen Sprunger (SUI) 19 18
 Olga Kurban (RUS) 20 21
 Marisa De Aniceto (FRA) 21 24
 Györgyi Farkas (HUN) 22 25
 Grit Šadeiko (EST) 23 22
 Sofia Ifadidou (GRE) 24 28
 Ivona Dadic (AUT) 25 27
 Sarah Cowley (NZL) 26 31
 Louise Hazel (GBR) 27 26
 Ida Marcussen (NOR) 28 29
 Chantae McMillan (USA) 29 23
 Jennifer Oeser (GER) 30 15
 Julia Mächtig (GER) 31 30
 Irina Karpova (KAZ) 32 32

A Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient of 0.9242 shows that the two rankings are strongly correlated as we’d expect, but for individual athletes the change of system can make quite a difference. Under the omnium system, the Russian Tatyana Chernova would lose her bronze medal to Lyudmyla Yosypenko of Ukraine. Other athletes can fall or rise a considerable number of places. Lithuanian Austra Skujytė, strong in the field events, finds the gains from her vastly superior shot putting limited as she drops 6th places. Meanwhile, for Jennifer Oeser of Germany, her considerable losses from the 800m (which she failed to finish, and so scored 0 points) are limited so much that she climbs 15 places.

It should be noted that the athletes perform in the heptathlon with knowledge of the rules and their performances will be affected accordingly. However, the heptathlon points system is probably viewed as being fairer in that greater efforts reap greater rewards irrespective of how other athletes have performed. It also enables heptathletes to contest for world records as all other track and field athletes can.

I’ve only looked at one heptathlon competition here, and one could look at more to see what effect an omnium-style points system has in those cases. It could also be applied to other multi-discipline events such as the decathlon, modern pentathlon and the individual and team all-around gymnastic events (how the system would apply in the team all-around is another question: would gymnasts be ranked individually in each event or would their scores be combined and then the teams ranked in each event?)

Note: to break ties in the individual events, where possible I have used standard tie-breaking rules for those events, i.e. looking at next best throws/jumps in the long jump/javelin/shot put and using ‘countback’ for the high jump.

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3 Responses to Heptathlon points system vs the omnium points system

  1. rikkiprince says:

    Fascinating idea and great blog post. I was hoping you’d come up with some formulae and co-efficients for scoring the omnium events like a heptathlon. I think that approach would be much fairer than applying omnium scoring to the other multi-event disciplines.

    Could it be done? Most of the omnium events seem suitable for heptathlon-style scoring. It’s just elim and scratch that concern me. Would giving a score based on position create too much of a stepped effect? I guess if “time behind leader” when eliminated was recorded for the elim, then you could award points based on that?

    • Ed says:

      Cheers. I think one difficult task with devising a heptathlon-style system is to come up with the ‘right’ formula for each event that gives equal weighting to each event- it’s pretty subjective, and you’d probably need to look at a tonne of data to do so. With the flying lap, individual pursuit and time trial, like I said, I think it’s certainly doable, a certain time equals a certain number of points.

      As for the bunch events, I think if you have riders racing for time as well as placings I think they could become too dangerous. That’s the reason why riders finishing in the same bunch on the road are given the same time, even if they actually cross the line several seconds apart. But I also think the outcome of these races is too relative – for instance, if you gain 5 points in a sprint in the points race, that’s 5 points everyone else can’t get. Or the length of time of a scratch race is determined by how the bunch decide to ride.

      Of course, whether the omnium will still be an Olympic event in four years time is another question! Also, unlike these other multi-discipline events, its makeup isn’t set in stone, so if it is still around it could be different.

      • rikkiprince says:

        OK, so if a detailed scoring system was required for omnium, it’s a young enough sport that its structure could be altered to make it work? Elim and scratch could be replaced by something else? What could they do instead?

        I was hoping you’d attempt to come up with a scoring system, because I wanted to know how it would be done. There’s a little bit of a history for decathlon on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decathlon_scoring_tables but for heptathlon, Wikipedia just says “The scoring system was developed by Dr. Karl Ulbrich”!

        It sounds like the evolves a lot. With all systems like this, it is hard to balance until you see how people game it to their advantage. I’m not sure, but you could probably take the existing equations used in heptathlon and decathlon, and try to fit them to existing results for the omnium. It would be a starting point to balance from. But of course raises the questions, are the currently results “right” and is there any point building a scoring system which replicates the existing results? 🙂

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