Tuesday, November 30, 2010

So what's the Point?

So whats the point? What good is it to hear that someone “improved his points” if you don’t get the point? So today I'm offering a tutorial on the US and international points ranking systems. I hope you'll find this interesting, since this is the fairest ranking system I've seen in any sport. BCS, look to your laurels…

When do points come into play? Youth Ski League racers (12 and under) race in their region, searching largely for individual medals. There are no “standings” per se, and even if there were, those standings would offer little benefit. However, once a racer reaches “Junior” status, (age 13) it’s all about standings and points. Medals mean little or nothing unless they’re earned at a major championship... rankings are what count. There are two very similar point systems, one for USSA (US athletes) and one for FIS (international). US athletes are only ranked in the USSA points list at age 13 and 14. From age 15 through adulthood, our athletes are rated on both lists.

Why are points important? Many races are over solicited, so the entries are accepted based upon points standings (lower points are better). Also, the start order is based upon points, with the lower point athletes starting sooner. Obviously, the sooner one starts, the better the course conditions, and the greater the likelihood of finishing well. But most importantly, points are like the SAT of skiing. Spots on the US Team and top NCAA teams are offered based upon points and world rankings.

How are points earned? Points are earned using an intricate formula; here's how it works: The five lowest pointholders out of the top ten entrants are totalled and added to the five lowest pointholders of the top ten finishers. The sum is divided by ten, then a specific factor is added. This yields what is called the point penalty for that particular race. Once the penalty for the race is computed, each finisher receives the penalty plus race points based upon his finish order, the length of the course, and how far behind he was. For instance, if the penalty for a race was 30 points and I won that race, I would leave with a point result of 30. Let’s say you finished in 9th place, 1.2 seconds behind me, you might get penalty points of 30 plus race points of 7 for a 37 point result. Our results are then entered in the USSA and FIS data bases and averaged with our previous best points finish for the type of event. So, if I earned a 30 today in slalom and my previous best slalom result was a 38, my new points profile for that event would become 34.

Why aren’t medals important? Because I could seek races with weak fields and win every race. So what? My points (and world rankings) would never improve. Instead, racers seek events where the competition is better than them. That way the point penalty is lower and if they ski well they can improve their own point profile. Every racer starts his career with 990 points as a profile for each event. Racers on the World Cup have points in the single digits. It’s a long road to the top, but it is eminently fair.

Scott's FIS points in all events are around 40. Last year as a J2 in FIS elite races he was frequently amongst the early starters. But to get better he has to face tougher fields. So now he's in races with single digit athletes at NORAM level races. Since they're at the front of the start order, they're on the smooth, perfectly prepared, course. Scott and his fellow aspirants are starting way back in the 70's and 80's. So not only are they facing very fast athletes, but they are suffering a handicap from the course conditions. But it's all fair. I'll take this over the French ice skating judge any old day!

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