Pouring over ski speed, shooting times and lap times is counter intuitive for the high drama of biathlon. But for the son of an accountant, it’s pure pleasure.
Scott Gow’s numbers are bullish. He’s finished 16th twice in world cup sprint races, mastering the discipline in a way few Canadians ever have. His strong performance in the relay was a key contributor to Canada’s 2016 world championships bronze relay medal. This year, his aim in the pursuits has been on the wild side, but it’s a sure bet the 27-year-old is analyzing every shot in a bid to get better.
Baseball is often the domain of the stats-mad sports fan, but for Gow, he gleans more knowledge from the Biathlonworld Datacenter website than most do from mlb.com.
“I like to focus on ski speed, total time, and shooting speed. Those are the most relevant statistics. If it’s not a good day, don’t overthink it, but you eventually get a baseline of your average time behind the leader, or your rank behind. It’s important to read. Maybe your skiing doesn’t feel good, but your time was good. You can figure that out. I look at that stuff all the time,” Gow said.
A head for stats is only one trait Gow has used on his journey to his first Olympic Games, but it helps him make the marginal gains required to beat his opponents.
It helps to have younger brother Christian, who is just as excited about discussing numbers.
“We will look at everyone’s shooting time, their speed, and talk about it over dinner. Half the team won’t know what we’re talking about because they haven’t looked at it yet. Christian and I talk about that stuff all the time. We look at stats and say ‘who’s this random dude?’ or ‘that’s where we should have been.’ ”
He’ll even offer his most basic take on his approach to slow-witted reporters.
“If you have a ski time that is in the top-30 and you shoot 90 per cent, you can be in the top-20. If you have the 40th or 50th fastest ski time, you need to shoot 100 per cent and that might get you in the top-30. Just knowing that helps you ski and shoot your fastest. It’s good to know I can shoot in 26 seconds. The fastest guys shoot in 23 seconds. It’s great, but I know it’s only three seconds,” Gow said.
Right. Got it.
When anomalies such as doping throw off the numbers, that’s when Gow does get upset. The problem truly hit home after his brother finished 31st twice, 32nd once and 33rd once last season. One top-30 was needed to send Christian to the Olympics, but suspected doping athletes finished ahead of him.
“You know you are racing people who have doped. The impression from the IBU is they are doing the bare minimum to look like there is a crackdown, but nothing changes,” Gow said. “It was points of a second difference, but there were four or five ahead of him who had been suspected of doping … that’s the margin we are talking about.”
Despite the political lesson biathlon has taught, Gow would love to enter medicine after sport – a realm with even more stats and markers to measure.
“It’s definitely complicated. Diagnosing is interesting to me. So is problem solving. I was always good at biology. That was my strong suit. My dream job is to be a doctor working with athletes,” Gow said. “I just love stats and data to compare and see these things. Nothing is a perfect correlation, but it’s interesting to see if the top athletes have the highest VO2 max thresholds. They don’t usually divulge those numbers, and when they do, they are old.”
While he says he’d likely be a speed skater if he weren’t in biathlon, Gow is also a gifted weight lifter, which is why he has explosive sprinting power.
“I can definitely squat more than everyone else. I have a biological advantage. It’s genetics,” Gow said.
Yet Gow is more than a calculator in Thor’s body. Both brothers may downplay it, but emotions bubble up when they ponder sharing an Olympic debut. They can even dream about a shared medal.
“We know we can do it, because we’ve already done it on the second-biggest world stage, at world championships. I would argue our team has gotten stronger since then. There is no reason why we can’t accomplish that,” Gow said.