All Time Best Performances

As measured by standardized percent back from the median skier, anyway. I mentioned in my recap from the other day that Matti Heikkinen’s race was one of the best ever, in terms of how far he out-paced the field. I actually got the count slightly wrong, since I was counting visually on my computer screen, so it was actually the 26th best I have on record, not the 18th. My bad.

That’s still very, very extreme. The top thirty for both men and women (displayed below) represent the top 0.07% of all WC, WSC, OWG and TDS performances I have on record since 1991-1992, so this is really the extreme end of extreme. Here’s the table:

All Time Best Standardized % Back From Median Values

2007-02-28WSC15MenBERGER Lars1-3.79
2006-02-17OWG15MenVEERPALU Andrus1-3.54
1997-02-24WSC10MenDAEHLIE Bjoern1-3.45
1992-02-13OWG10MenULVANG Vegard1-3.42
2006-02-17OWG15MenBAUER Lukas2-3.30
1995-01-29WC15MenSMIRNOV Vladimir1-3.29
2001-02-15WSC15MenELOFSSON Per1-3.26
2002-02-23OWG50MenIVANOV Mikhail1-3.23
1999-02-22WSC5WomenSKARI MARTINSEN Bente1-3.22
2006-02-17OWG15MenANGERER Tobias3-3.22
2005-02-17WSC15MenPILLER COTTRER Pietro1-3.20
2008-03-08WC50MenSOEDERGREN Anders1-3.17
2001-01-13WC15MenMUEHLEGG Johann1-3.16
2006-02-17OWG15MenROTCHEV Vassili4-3.16
1998-02-12OWG10MenDAEHLIE Bjoern1-3.15
1995-03-11WSC10MenSMIRNOV Vladimir1-3.15
1999-02-19WSC15WomenBELMONDO Stefania1-3.12
2002-02-23OWG50MenVEERPALU Andrus2-3.12
1992-02-13OWG10MenALBARELLO Marco2-3.12
1999-02-19WSC30MenMYLLYLAE Mika1-3.11
2007-02-28WSC15MenKARNEYENKA Leanid2-3.11
1995-03-09WSC30MenSMIRNOV Vladimir1-3.11
1992-02-13OWG10MenMAJBAECK Christer3-3.1
1992-12-12WC10MenULVANG Vegard1-3.03
1992-02-13OWG10MenDAEHLIE Bjoern4-3.02
2011-03-01WSC15MenHEIKKINEN Matti1-3.01
1998-02-12OWG10MenGANDLER Markus2-3.00
1992-02-13OWG10MenJONSSON Niklas5-3.00
2005-02-17WSC15MenVALBUSA Fulvio2-3.00
2001-02-15WSC15MenFREDRIKSSON Mathias2-3.00
The top thirty performances at measured by standardized percent back from the median.

Now, you’re already probably noticing some distinct patterns here. First, there’s the overwhelming presence of Olympic and World Championship 10/15km races. It’s tempting to assume that these events produce more extreme performances when measuring relative to the median skier because these events have slightly weaker fields than many World Cups and will include a lot of skiers at the back end of the field that normally don’t race on the World Cup. And that does probably explain some of it. But having checked a few measures of the strength of the median skier from race to race, there isn’t as a big a difference between WC and OWG/WSC races as you might think, at least on average. Also, the fact that two races account for 9 of the top 30 tells me that unusual race conditions is probably a bigger driver of these extreme results than weak fields.

I mentioned in my previous post that there are several known dopers on this list, and I was mostly referring to Johann Mühlegg and Mika Myllylae. Markus Gandler is another name that raises some suspicion; I think he’s never technically been caught and convicted of actually doping, but there was that stuff from Torino that I remember. Andrus Veerpalu appears twice in the top 30, and he’s a guy that people sometimes whisper about, but he hasn’t (to my knowledge) come under any concrete suspicion. And in any case, I have this vague recollection that the 15km classic in Torino was one of those weird weather days, but I’m not sure. And then there’s Vassili Rotchev, who got in trouble for a filing failure recently and is being coached, I think, by his wife who is currently serving a suspension for EPO, but accusing a guy based on that evidence is pretty lame.

Also notable is that Ivanov and Veerpalu both appear on this list from the 2002 Olympic 50k. Mühlegg “won” that race, of course, but was stripped of his gold, and  Mühlegg, Ivanov and Veerpalu all simply crushed the field that day; there was a nearly 2 minute gap from Veerpalu to Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset in fourth.

The other category I mentioned was the folks who are genuinely insanely fast skiers: Dæhlie, Ulvang, Smirnov, Elofsson, and Skari clearly belong in this category and they constitute 10 of the top 30 positions here. Most of the other skiers are also very good, but perhaps not quite at the “super-star” level: Bauer, Piller Cottrer, Södergren, Belmondo, Albarello, Majbäck, Jonsson, Fredriksson, Valbusa and Heikkinen. I’m not as familiar with Ivanov and Rotchev’s skiing careers.

As for unusual weather or waxing: the 2007 WSC race that led to Berger and Karneyenka taking 1st and 2nd was a notoriously strange weather day and that was the one that I immediately remembered when I first looked at these values. I have this memory that the Torino 15km was also a strange weather day, but I could be wrong about that one. And it only took a little Googling to figure out that the 1992 Olympic men’s 10k was also conducting in a driving snow storm. So if I’m right about 2006, that makes 12 of the top 30 arising from bizarre weather.

Another interesting way to look at this is to examine each of these races in the context of each athlete’s entire careers (this graph is very, very big):

The black bar is the cutoff for the top 30 races (-3). You’ll note that there’s a mix here. Some of these efforts are obviously wildly out of proportion from the athlete’s other results (e.g. Ivanov, Rotchev maybe Gandler), some only seem moderately out of the ordinary (e.g. Fredriksson).

Related posts:

  1. A Look At Skier Speeds
  2. Aging Ski Teams
  3. Podium Heartbreak
  4. Sweden’s Men’s Sprinting
  5. The Mysteries of Andrus Veerpalu

About Joran


6 Responses to “All Time Best Performances”
  1. Cliff says:

    Great post! Some of these races really bring back memories. The 15 k from Lahti 2001 which put both Elofsson and Fredriksson on this list was essentially the return of Swedish skiing after the dark period from 1994-2000.

    The 15 k i Torino was definitely a snow race as well: I remember that the norwegians severly missed the waxing that day.

  2. xcskier22 says:

    Rotchev has several wins at both distance and sprint events, has bronze from 2006 and is a world champion in the fist classic sprint from 2005. Since 2007/2008, he’s been on a fairly steep decline, but he was definitely legit 2001-2007, plus he is a WJ champion. Ivanov wasn’t around for very long, but he’s sort of like Veerpalu, to some extent. Classical specialist who shows up well at big races. Also got a bronze medal fron the 2001 Worlds. I think you should do a special graph for Heikkinen. I think you would see some ridiculous patterns. In fact, the line would look very schizophrenic! He’s all over the map as far as consistency is concerned. The 1990’s was a crazy era, because of the widespread use of EPO, most notably with the Russians and Italians, and the (cough, cough) asthma medicine by the Norwegians. Now there are rumours that the Austrian and German teams are linked to ‘labs’ in Vienna and Freiburg. I am interested to see how far that case goes. Lars Berger, although quite capable, got extremely lucky with the conditions in 2007.

  3. *brain explodes at the amazingness*

    Might one of the factors in the ’06 Torino 15k have been Norway’s infamous waxing problem? I don’t recall the weather situation, but at the very least it would have knocked a number of elite racers down to the bottom of the results sheet, which would have made Veerpalu’s victory seem that much more impressive, no?

  4. Cosmo says:

    It may be more telling to limit the data from the field to the top 30 finishers, base the median off that, and then go ahead with the statistics. I would think this would remove some of the strange weather effect, and/or the off-the-back athletes which may both be skewing the results unintentionally away from the true awe-inspiring results.

    • Joran says:

      You’d certainly get a different list of performances. A quick check confirmed what I suspected, which is that doing what you recommend certainly leads to a very different list, but one that is still overwhelmingly dominated by OWG/WSC 10/15km races, and still includes many (though not all) of these weather anomalies. (And in fact it introduces some new anomalies; namely some weird TdS pursuit races with weakened fields due to people dropping late in the tour.) Your procedure doesn’t knock the 1992 OWG race off the list at all; in fact it climbs higher. The 2006 OWG race slides down somewhat, but not dramatically. The 2007 WSC race is pushed down a little further, since if I recall correctly that crazy storm started after 20-25 starters left, so looking at % behind 15th place isn’t going to be so impressive.

      If you really pushed me, I’d never defend this (or any other similar measure) as measuring the “best” performances, just the most extreme. “Best” is too subjective.

      • Cosmo says:

        Thanks for the reply, I’m always intrigued to see the analysis, and as well interested to see what happens when you try to control for out-of-norm variability, the results can be just as interesting.

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