London 2012 Olympics: recent articles in Significance


  • Date: 24 Jul 2012

With London 2012 fever gripping the nation and only 3 days to go before the Olympics Opening Ceremony (though the very first event, the women's football, kicks off proceedings tomorrow at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff when Great Britain take on New Zealand) we highlight some of the Olympics-themed articles published in Significance in recent months.

thumbnail image: London 2012 Olympics: recent articles in Significance

The mission of Significance is to spread appreciation of statistics. Sport is where statistics meets the rest of mankind; and they meet on equal terms. With this in mind Significance published a special issue on the Olympics in April 2012.

In the Olympics issue, John D. Barrow showed how Jamaican sprinting superstar, Usain Bolt, could run even faster, without too much extra effort, Ray Stefani evaluated whether the recently banned high-technology swimsuits significantly improve performance and Howard Wainer wondered why hard things (running a mile in under 4 minutes; playing piano to virtuoso level) are becoming so much more commonly achieved.

The Olympic Torch Relay has been passing through the United Kingdom over the past two months (including the fictional London borough of Walford); Neville Davies and colleagues from the RSS Centre for Statistical Education have developed an online tool that schoolchildren can use to find out how many of them live within 10 miles of the flame’s visiting locations.

The issue also looked at moving towards a gender-neutral Games, how many medals host nation Team GB will win and we talked to an Olympics odds-setter. And when did the first Olympic Games actually take place? Modern archaeology suggests that proto-statistician, Hippias of Elis, got it wrong when he said 776BC.

In the June 2012 issue, Ken Green in his article "London 2012 and sports participation: The myths of legacy" wonders whether there really is some kind of crisis in sports participation in England, especially among the young.

On the website we have published a series of articles that look at the changing face of Britain through statistics since the previous London Olympics of 1908 and 1948. These range from the sporting (men’s Olympic record progression on the track; the growth in the numbers of competitors and events in the Games - though some will shed a tear at the disappearance of the tug-of-war and the powerboat racing) through to the changing prison population, how technology has changed farming, how the British spend their vacations, the National Debt, infant mortality, railway journeys, energy useelectoral participation and whether we will ever match the frankly astonishing level of 1.6 billion cinema visits in 1946.

We all hope for decent weather during the Games. What are the chances of a balmy evening for the Opening Ceremony? And what will the air quality be like for the competitors?

Enjoy the Games!

(For those seeking more on the statistics of the Olympic Games, the Royal Statistical Society’s 2012 annual conference in Telford in September may help: the Olympics is one of its special themes.)

Significance is a bi-monthly magazine for anyone interested in statistics and the analysis and interpretation of data. Its aim is to communicate and demonstrate in an entertaining, thought provoking and non-technical way the practical use of statistics in all walks of life, and to show informatively and authoritatively how statistics benefit society. It is published on behalf of the Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association.

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Published features on are checked for statistical accuracy by a panel from the European Network for Business and Industrial Statistics (ENBIS)   to whom Wiley and express their gratitude. This panel are: Ron Kenett, David Steinberg, Shirley Coleman, Irena Ograjenšek, Fabrizio Ruggeri, Rainer Göb, Philippe Castagliola, Xavier Tort-Martorell, Bart De Ketelaere, Antonio Pievatolo, Martina Vandebroek, Lance Mitchell, Gilbert Saporta, Helmut Waldl and Stelios Psarakis.