Whether She Has 46 Or 52 WC Wins, Marit Bjørgen Is Very Fast

So I guess I need to post something again about how many WC “victories” Marit Bjørgen has, ground that we’ve covered in considerable depth before. The occasion for revisiting this topic is FIS’s press release trumpeting the fact that Bjørgen has officially reached 46 WC victories, matching the great Björn Dæhlie. As we discussed in my previous post, this relies on some creative counting. Or rather, some creative un-counting.

Quite frankly, FIS can count things however they like. I just don’t understand their logic. The rule apparently is that winning a stage in the Tour de Ski, or any other World Cup-affiliated stage race, does not count as a World Cup victory. However, winning the overall stage race standings, does count as a World Cup victory. For the life of me, I can’t understand why it’s necessary to make that distinction, but whatever. If you include her individual stage wins, Bjørgen has 52 World Cup wins over her career.

Where FIS and I do agree is that Marit Bjørgen may be the best female XC ski racer ever, and while comparing men and women might not make much sense, you could probably make an argument that she’s one of the best XC skiers ever including the men. This past season was easily her best ever for distance results:

The blue line is tracking her median performance for each season. She had a grand total of four distance races that were only ~1-2 standard deviations better than average, and several of those were stage race handicap starts where she most likely was racing for the overall win not the stage win. But everything else was solidly in the super-human territory, and consistently there as well. The law of averages would suggest that Bjørgen won’t repeat this type of dominance next season, but you never know.

While she isn’t quite as dominant in sprinting, she’s still an unbelievably good sprinter:

Yeah, so the worst she’s done over the past two seasons in a sprint race is 10th. Over her entire career, she’s made the semifinals ~75% of the time and has advanced to the finals ~60% of the time.

Sure, I think she has 52 WC wins, and FIS thinks she has only 46. Tomayto, tomahto. She’s one of the best ever.


Was Bjørgen vs Kowalczyk Really An Issue This Season?

Doogiski over at NordicXplained has a good post up regarding the rivalry (such as it is) between Marit Bjørgen and Justyna Kowlaczyk. The issue between the fans of these two great skiers is the question of which one is better. Shocker, I know.

Doogiski gives a good rundown of some of the limitations of comparing skiers using only World Cup points and does some adjustments for the number of races each skier did, plus a few other factors. I think this is a reasonable way to look at World Cup points, but ultimately I agree with one of his commenters that this is really fairly simple. In the specific case of two athletes who have actually raced against each other a fair amount, the least ambiguous way to measure who was better is simply to look at these specific head-to-head matchups.

In this case, they raced against each other in 7 sprint races and 14 distance races. (I’m not including the overall standings for the stage races both ladies competed in at Kuusamo and in Falun, just each individual race.) Kowalczyk beat Bjørgen in only one sprint race (Otepaa) and in only two distance races (handicap pursuit in Kuusamo and the regular pursuit in Lahti). That’s a record of 6-1 (Sprint) and 12-2 (Distance) for Bjørgen, and with numbers like that it’s very hard for me to take seriously claims that Kowalczyk was the better skier this season. And one of those wins for Kowalczyk was a somewhat unusual race, with Bjørgen holding the overall lead in the Kuusamo mini-tour and most likely not really trying to win the stage, but simply hold on to the overall lead.

In fact, if you extend this back to the previous two seasons, Bjørgen’s record is 11-3 (Sprint) and 20-5 (Distance). Kowalczyk can, and does, beat her on occasion, but it’s not exactly a back-and-forth rivalry lately.

Obviously, Kowalczyk skied very well at the Tour de Ski, and I think in doing so proved that she was (on average) better than everyone other than Bjørgen this season. (Although one could possibly argue that Johaug deserves that title.) Bjørgen didn’t do the Tour, but probably will next year, which I predict will lead to either an epic battle between the two, or a really boring Tour as Bjørgen crushes everyone.

Let’s kick things up a notch, though, focusing in on the times they’ve raced against each other in distance events overall: Read more

Week In Review: Friday Mar 25th

You may have noticed that things have slowed down a bit here lately, which is natural with the season drawing to a close. I’m going to back off a bit with the posts and try to keep to just a Mon-Wed-Fri schedule during the off-season as best as I can. Some things I’m planning on doing over the next few weeks include some obvious stuff like recapping the performance of the US/Canadian teams this season and looking back at the careers of some of the folks who are retiring. I have some other stuff up my sleeve as well, but if you have any ideas/questions for analysis about specific nations or athletes, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

  • A short post on Leif Nordgren who had some very strong results this year for such a young American biathlete.
  • I also of course had to take a look at Finn Hägen Krogh, another youngster who finished the season off with a bang.
  • Finally, I gave a little taste of some of the split timing data I’ve managed to get my hands on this year, highlighting the differences between mass start and interval start races.

Leif Nordgren: Man of the Future?

I promised a separate post on Leif Nordgren earlier, so here it goes. I don’t really have any fancy analysis to present, but here’s his results in major international competitions (WC, WBC and OWG):

Obviously, the guy is young and this is his first season skiing on the WC circuit “full time” or mostly so. His two fantastic races at World Championships certainly attracted some attention, and rightly so. But I’d also note just how different those two races were from the rest of his results. Now, that’s not uncommon in biathlon, where a few more shots made here and there can easily move you up or down 15-20 places. I just wouldn’t expect him to pump out that kind of race on a regular basis, even next season.

However, you’ll also note that (if you look carefully) his result from just this season were steadily improving throughout the season it seemed. Not by a huge amount, perhaps, but it’s noticeable. That’s exactly what you want to see from a young guy getting used to international competitions. I would think that the best case scenario for him next season would be to have his results spending most of their time in the ‘Good’ section of these graphs, with occasional forays in ‘Elite’. He’s certainly an interesting guy to watch, though.

This got me wondering though about young skiers in biathlon in general. My age data for biathletes is much less complete than for cross country, since that information is harder to obtain in large chunks. I did my best to identify a few men under the age of 22 who raced in WC or WBC races this season. There were only a few people who appeared to do this more than a handful of times: Read more

Finn Haagen Krogh: Northug 2.0?

Norwegian youngster Finn Haagen Krogh had an excellent weekend of racing at the World Cup Finals in Sweden recently. Here’s a look at his distance results (using FIS points) up to this point:

He was having a pretty darn good season even before this last weekend, having moved his typical race down to (or just below) 50 FIS points. He won the final stage of the World Cup Final and was 8th in the pursuit the day before, which give him his two lower than usual FIS points for the season.

As I’m sure the folks in Scandinavia are aware, Krogh has been skiing quite well off the World Cup circuit this season. In the Dec/Jan Scandinavian Cup races he finished in the top five several times (2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 4th; one of those was a sprint). Then in the early Feb Scandinavian Cups he didn’t fare so well, (12th, 14th, 18th, 26th; two sprints), but then by the end of Feb, he bounced back with a 1st, 2nd and 9th. He had good (but not dominant) performances last year at WJCs, finishing 3rd and 4th in the distance races and 12th in the sprint.

And this is the first season he’s appeared in World Cup races, apparently. Pretty impressive. The last thing I want to note about him is about his age, since he’s now technically won a World Cup race. (One could nitpick about the fact that his win came in a handicap start stage race, which often have top skiers racing to maintain position rather than to have the fastest time of the day. But he gets the 0.00 FIS points and all, so fair’s fair.) I looked up every victory (sprint or distance) in a major event (WC, OWG, WSC, TdS) by male skiers no older than 22 since 1992, and I found only 16 of them (including Krogh). Read more

The Difference Between Mass Start And Interval Start Races In One Graph

Thanks to some help from Jan at WorldOfXC.com, I’ve been slowly gathering the split time data for World Cup races from this season. Analyzing them is tricky, though, for a variety of reasons.

First, the data quality is poor. There are numerous instances where the live timing data is obviously wrong in a way that I can’t fix by hand, and so a certain number of split times need to be omitted completely. Second, the live timing data itself doesn’t say exactly how far into the race each timing instance is, so I have to infer that from the times and the length of the race. It works pretty well, but I’m sure it’s only accurate to +/- 500 meters or so. Lastly, handicap start races have to be dealt with separately, since the live timing tracks the time from when the first racer starts, not from when each racer starts.

Still, I’m beginning to find some interesting stuff. A little later I’ll show you some graphs on individual skiers that can shed some light on tactics and performance that I think are kind of interesting. For now, though, the obvious: Read more

Race Snapshot: IBU WC Mass Start

And…..we’re done for the season!

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