How Well Prepared Are World Cup Rookies? (Part 1a: Distance)

Every season a new crop of young skiers cut their teeth on the World Cup circuit.  These might be new national team members racing on the World Cup full time, or they might be Nation’s Group athletes who receive a start as part of a host nation’s extra start allotments.  Each nation likely has a somewhat different strategy for choosing which up and coming athletes are awarded this opportunity.  One interesting question we can ask is whether there are differences in the level of preparation these athletes have seen between nations, or groups of nations.

The first two installments in this series will look at distance events, and then we’ll turn to sprints.

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Welcome to Statistical Skier!

I’ve somehow managed to amass a fairly impressive database of international skiing results (what can I say, I really like data) and cross-country skiing has been a huge part of my life.  I wrote a few articles1 for this spring exploring some of this data and I was excited that at least a few people seemed to enjoy them.  More importantly, though, I had a ton of fun writing them.

I had so much fun, in fact, that I’m going to keep exploring the data here.

Things are just getting off the ground, website-wise, so I apologize if things look a little rough around the edges.  Like everything else on the web, it is a work in progress.

As for content, we’ll just have to see what happens.  A lot of the stuff I plan on writing about isn’t nearly as “serious” as the articles I wrote for, but of course some things will be more along those lines.  But trust me, I have plenty of ideas for topics!  My goal is to post something new at least several times a week, even during the summer, a decidedly slow time for skiing news.

So have a look around as we get up and running.  Please be sure to check back in for updates and/or subscribe to my RSS feed.

Finally, a special request: if you happen to have results for World Cup, Olympic or World Championship races from the 1990-1991 seasons or prior, I’d love to hear from you.  What I’m looking for are complete results including times.  If you’re willing to share them, I’d be grateful.  Paper or electronic media of (nearly) any format is fine.  You can email me at statisticalskier at gmail dot com.

  1. I’ve reposted them in the preceding posts.

Victims & Nemeses

This concept is shamelessly stolen from these guys (Thanks, Colin!) and is decidedly in the “less serious” end of the spectrum.  A potential victim is awarded one point every time you defeat them by fewer than ten seconds, two points if the race happens to be an Olympic or World Championship event.  The same goes for nemeses, only in reverse: these are people who’ve beaten you by fewer than ten seconds.  Below are lists containing the top victims and nemeses for Petter Northug for the 2009-2010 season.  As you can see, Northug doesn’t have much in the way of nemeses; he’s just too darn fast for that.  He does, however, enjoy punishing Germans, Axel Teichmann in particular:

Petter Northug: Victims

LEGKOV Alexander5

Petter Northug: Nemeses


Obviously, I can calculate this for anyone I choose.  At some point it would be nice to link my database to a webform on the blog that would allow readers to look this stuff up on their own, but that’s a big project.  Perhaps down the road…for the time being, you’ll have to be content with me periodically posting the victims and nemeses are particular skiers from time to time.

Performance vs Age Redux: Grover’s Graph

[Note: This article first appeared here.]

Chris Grover recently mentioned a graph,

“Every athlete who is being nominated to the U.S. Ski Team this year has something in common.  They are on the path to winning a medal. This medal could from the World Cup, World Championship or Olympic Winter Games, but they are on this path.  If we graph these athletes’ ages versus their FIS points and plot those graphs against the progress of the best cross country skiers in the world, we can see that they are on the path.”

Being a statistics and data junkie, I excitedly scrolled up and down the article looking for this graph.  Alas, it was nowhere to be found!  But it sure sounded like a cool idea, so I thought I’d give it a try myself.  I can’t read Chris Grover’s mind and know precisely what he meant, so what follows is simply my interpretation of what I think he might have meant, with some of my own twists added in. Read more

Trends In US Skiing Performance: Sprint

[Note: This article first appeared here.]

Welcome back for the second half of my article looking at trends in performance by US skiers (as a group) on the international scene.  Last time we looked at distance events, so now it’s time to turn to sprinting.  Before we move on, if you haven’t read the first half of this article, please go do so now.  It can be found here.  I laid out many important caveats in that piece that remain in effect here.

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Trends In US Skiing Performance: Distance

[Note: This article first appeared here.]

An endearing facet of cross country ski racing is the seasonal rhythm it introduces into our lives.  Summer, fall and winter each hold unique rituals and landmarks of training, racing and recovery.  Spring brings with it its own rituals, among them retrospection on the season just completed.  Athletes around the nation use these months to reflect on their season, evaluate their performance and plan for the future.

In recent years, the same has been true for the US skiing community as a whole.  In particular, each spring we are treated to a new round of articles discussing the progress, or lack thereof, of US skiing. has been a prominent forum for many of these discussions.

I have followed these discussions with some interest and wade into the topic with considerable trepidation.  I want to be clear that while I was a ski racer for much of my life (occasionally even achieving a level of not-slowness) I claim no expertise on how a nation ought to develop international caliber athletes.  I have no racing or coaching experience that could even remotely be considered close to an international level of competition.  However, I do possess a large quantity of data on skiing results, I am more qualified than many as a data analyst, and an obvious thing to do with skiing results data is to look at trends in performance over time.  If I want to write data oriented articles on skiing, I’ll have to take up the topic eventually.  Hopefully, I won’t make any enemies!

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Variability In World Cup Ski Racers

[Note: This article first appeared here.]

Kris Freeman recently commented on his blog, “I am a serious contender for the most volatile and inconsistent skier on the world cup”, in reference to his disappointing races at the Vancouver Olympics.

Every cross-country ski racer knows that you can’t always race at your best, all the time. Some days you just feel better than others.  Often there’s an obvious reason (sickness, fatigue, overtraining etc.) but sometimes not. Racers work very hard to condition their bodies to perform at very high levels, repeatedly, throughout a season. However, it is inevitable that there are some differences from race to race.

These observation lead naturally to a topic that’s not very “sexy”, but it’s what stats geeks think about all the time: variation.  Let’s look at some data regarding variability in ski racing and see what we can learn.

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