Carolina Marin’s journey to becoming World and Olympic Champion is much like the plot of the 2011 film Moneyball.
In the film, Brad Pitt plays the manager of the Oakland Athletics, a financially weak baseball team that cannot afford to keep high profile players on the payroll. With odds stacked against him, Brad Pitt then hires an economics graduate (played by Jonah Hill) who uses the power of statistical data analysis to acquire undervalued players for their team.
Their pioneering, unorthodox method led them to a record-breaking 20 match winning streak.
When Carolina Marin decided at the age of 14 that she wanted to become world champion, the odds were stacked against her as well. Women’s singles discipline was extremely dominated by Chinese players.
There was not a single medallist from Spain in the history of the world championships in any of the five disciplines, let alone a world champion.
That is when her coach Fernando Rivas came in with the Moneyball approach. Marin became Rivas’s “guinea pig” in his experiment.
Rivas knew he could not beat the Chinese in their own game by using the training methods which they used, so he took a different approach. He took the approach of data science.
The day before the 2014 World Championships finals against the then reigning Olympic champion Li Xuerui, Rivas and his assistants stayed up until 4 in the morning analysing games of the opponent, creating video clips, tables and graphs for Carolina Marin.
Marin came out victorious in three sets after meticulously carrying out the game plan which Rivas came up with.
With data science becoming more popular, a lot of companies specializing in collecting and analysing sports data have emerged. Even though it means shelling out anywhere between 7000-100,000 Euros for the services of these companies, he at least does not need to stay awake till 4 am before Marin’s matches.
Rivas has had roughly 240,000 games analysed till date, reports El Pais. An average of 52,000 pieces of data is collected from each game. This translates to roughly 12,500 million pieces of data to get valuable analysis from.
This type of analysis is known as Big Data. Big Data deals with data sets that are too large or complex to be dealt with by traditional data software.
Now, combine Big Data with AI (artificial intelligence), and you can achieve things you have never imagined before.
This is how Carolina Marin can watch her matches even before it really takes place. From the thousands and thousands of real videos analysed, matches are re-created in “virtual reality” for Marin to watch and memorize.
So, when Marin enters the court, she can almost sense what her opponent will do even before it happens. It is not a certainty, but seeing such a pattern in the opponent’s game gives a clear winning advantage to Marin.
However impressive the power of data science is, it is merely a cog in the wheel in Marin’s success.
Fernando Rivas says, “Big Data can make the difference between a gold and a silver medal, but the key is mental strength.”