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Westminster students help snowboarders get to Olympics

By Nicole Gonzales | Posted - Feb. 10, 2010 at 9:48 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Elena Hight is on the Women's Olympic Half Pipe team, thanks to her skills and some whiz kids at Westminster College.

Karl Gerner and another classmate were assigned to create a simulation project using spreadsheet analysis software called Crystal Ball. Their task was to work with the U.S. Snowboarding Team to figure out who was most likely to qualify for the Olympics and what the best strategy was to get there.

Professor Alysse Morton said, "So the model that they created helped with that logic to determine, should they go to three international events or just two international events?"

Olympian Elena Hight
Olympian Elena Hight

"In the past it's been kind of an educated guess--a well educated guess--but still an educated guess," Gerner said.

So the students went to work, starting in the fall of 2008. They learned the half pipe scoring system, studied athletes' past performances and talked to coaches about future competitions. Then they multiplied findings by 1,000 and came up with averages, recommendations and predictions.

Fan favorite Shaun White was a shoe-in, but for some other competitors, the Westminster analysis actually helped. For instance, Elena Hight was originally scheduled for two international events, but after the number crunching, her chances of making the team went up significantly if she attended a third competition. So she did.

In the end, the numbers were right, and the Olympic team was satisfied.

"They were just really excited because it helped make their job easier and make their decisions easier," Morton said.

"It's pretty cool to see, hey we made that recommendation, they followed it and it happened," Gerner said.

Now, if only they could predict who is going to win.

The two students are going to present at the Utah Conference of Undergraduate Research at the end of this month. By the way, they got an A in their class.

E-mail: ngonzales@ksl.com

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Nicole Gonzales

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