Brief Season Assessment For North America

This is by no means a comprehensive look at how we fared this year, just one perspective based on a single graph.

One of the things that I pay closest attention to is depth: how many different skiers do we have performing at a particular level. The reason for this is that for relatively “small” skiing nations like ourselves, it can be pretty common for a single extraordinary skier to come along and provide excellent results for several years. This can make the program as a whole look pretty good, but if the success isn’t “filtering down” it probably won’t last.

In that vein, here’s a graph of the proportion of skiers (with World Cup starts) achieving a top 30 result, broken down by gender and race type (sprint or distance):

I’ve included the size scale with the points to give you a sense of the “denominator”: how many skiers we actually sent out there in a given season. As you can see, oftentimes is hasn’t been very many at all.

The Canadian men have obviously been quite successful recently, but note that Len Valjas is really the only new development lately, in terms of scoring WC points. Also, it’s interesting to me how the Canadian men seem to tend to have a larger number of athletes getting starts than the US, at least over the past 5 years or so.

The story with the Canadian women is pretty simple. There’s the big bulge for the Beckie Scott & Co. era and then a pretty steep drop off. There was a sudden explosion in the number of women getting sprint start between 2008-2010 in the run-up to the Olympics. While that has dropped off considerably, the women they are starting are finally scoring some points (Crawford and Gaiazova, mainly). Their distance results have sort of bounced around.

As for the American men, the 90’s saw a lot of years with only a few skiers getting starts (and hence the proportion bounces around quite a lot). Unsurprisingly, there was a huge increase in the number of starts prior to the 2002 Olympics, and then a somewhat deceptive jump in performance in the Olympic year. We did ski pretty well that year, but it was aided by some pretty sparsely attended pre-Olympic World Cups. (It would be interesting to do a version of this graph that looks only at races on European soil.)

That was basically the beginning of the Kris Freeman era in US men’s distance skiing. Between then and 2008 there a steady decline in the proportion of skiers reaching the top 30, despite a fairly steady 5-10 athletes getting starts each year. Recently, things appear to have picked up somewhat, although this year is basically identical to the last.

With the departure of Torin Koos and Simi Hamilton taking a few seasons to get healthy and performing where he’d like, sprinting has also seen a decline over the last several years.

That leaves the obvious big bright spot, the US women. For much of this graph, the proportions bounce around very erratically, since we very often had only 2-3 women getting starts. Following a real low in 2007, with no American women scoring points we’ve seen several consecutive seasons of improvement, with a slight drop off this year. The improvement in the women’s sprint events is only ~3 seasons old, but if anything it seems more promising.

Fredrik Karlsson

Hopefully there won’t be any more posts like this for a long while. Fredrik Karlsson died recently, I guess in a snowmobile accident. I didn’t know much about him, but I guess he was on Sweden’s development team. As you might expect for someone on Sweden’s development team, he hadn’t quite made a huge splash in World Cup races, having never cracked the top 30 in a distance race, and he’d only done one WC sprint race.

But if you look at his results with FIS points, you can clearly see that while he was relatively old (~27) he had not “stalled out” in terms of improvement:

No major jumps in performance, just a very steady, consistent improvement. By last season, his median FIS point result in distance races was good enough to be one of the top 15 Swedish men:

 

Name YOB Median FIS Point Total Races
HELLNER Marcus 1985 2.290 24
OLSSON Johan 1980 3.272 12
RICKARDSSON Daniel 1982 9.472 24
SOEDERGREN Anders 1977 11.392 17
JOHNSSON Jimmi 1985 17.912 7
AHRLIN Jerry 1978 18.116 7
FREDRIKSSON Mathias 1973 20.782 13
ERIKSSON Jens 1987 20.932 15
NELSON Lars 1985 22.024 25
HALFVARSSON Calle 1989 24.430 12
JONSSON Fredrik 1990 25.884 21
ANDREASSON Rikard 1979 26.552 10
BRINK Joergen 1974 27.410 10
KARLSSON Fredrik 1985 30.100 15
OTTOSSON Markus 1986 34.124 16

 

Jenny Olsson

 

 

Unfortunately, we have a distinct theme for this week’s posts. Jenny Olsson also passed away recently, apparently from breast cancer. She raced, quite successfully, for Sweden for much of the mid-00’s:

These are just her WC level distance results (she didn’t sprint much). As you can see, 2002-2003 was her best effort, but it’s not clear to me that it was part of any particular trend, up or down. She finally got sick and stopped racing in 2005.

But for that one season, she was by far Sweden’s best female skier:

 

Name Median Result # of Races
OLSSON Jenny -1.0595 15
EK Elin -0.6265 13
OLSSON Anna -0.0368 3
HANDLER Mariana 0.0473 8
ANDERSSON Lina 0.2072 5

Inge Braten

In some very sad news, we learned recently that Inge Braten passed away rather suddenly. It is difficult (and probably slightly foolish) to try to quantify a coach’s impact on skiing results, so let’s consider this post a rememberance, rather than an analysis.

Perhaps most famously, Braten coached the Norwegian men during their “Golden Era”:

(My records only go back to the 1991-1992 season.) Norway has certainly continued to enjoy success since then, but I will always remember that period as one of extraordinary depth, as indicated by the number of top thirty results per race.

His next two major coaching stints were much shorter, first with the Swedish men: Read more

Most Unimproved: Women’s Sprinters

Last in the series of most improved/unimproved we finally turn to the women’s sprinters:

Alena Prochazkova took a major tumble this season in sprints. She had been a fairly reliable presence in the semifinals until this season, when she appeared to often have trouble qualifying. Celine Brun-Lie also saw a major drop-off, but the much reduced number of races that she did this year makes me wonder if she possibly had some issues with illness or injury.

Anna Haag joins many of the Swedish men as having a sup-par sprinting season, but sprinting wasn’t really her focus it seems, anyway. Laure Barthelemy did a lot “worse” this season, but the data is fairly clear that what really happened is that she had an unusually large cluster of excellent races last season, that were at least partly out of character for her. Most of her results this season seem generally in line with how she’s fared in 2009 and 2010.

Let’s consider the two Finns next, Roponen and Saarinen. There were also some injury issues here as well, but even so, note that both ladies have seen some declines for more than one season in a row now, so that doesn’t necessarily explain all of it. Roponen in particular was a fairly solid sprinter several years ago and has just really struggled since. Saarinen was an arguably pretty dominant sprinter for two seasons there in 2009 and 2010, but now has seen two seasons in a row of faltering results.

Stefanie Boehler deserves a mention as well as someone who’s had a few seasons in a row of troubles. She was never a really dominant sprinter, but things have gotten pretty bad the last two seasons.

Most of the other ladies here may seem like odd inclusions. Keep in mind that these “bottom twelve” were picked based on a blend of a few metrics (average result, best results, etc.) and I’m only graphing one of those. But their declines are certainly less stark.

Most Unimproved: Men’s Sprint

Almost done with the series now, just the sprinters who struggled the most this season, starting with the men:

This list is notable for a few reasons, first because of the large number of big names on it. Usually there are at least of few people my metrics pick out that I don’t really know, but I’m familiar with basically all of these guys.

Secondly, this highlights what a rough season the Swedish men had, particularly in sprints. Joensson, Hellner, Modin and Rickardsson all struggled considerably this year compared to last. In Joensson’s case, he still had some decent races, but he simply wasn’t as absurdly dominant as he was the last two seasons. Hellner, Modin and Rickardsson all saw pretty dramatic declines, though. I mean, Rickardsson didn’t qualify for the heats once this year, Modin qualified but rarely advanced past the quarterfinals, and Hellner only qualified half the time.

Two Italians also make the list, Scola and Pasini. Scola’s sprinting performances last year are looking like they may have been a bit of an aberration, although his results have been pretty erratic from year to year. Pasini just plain struggled to qualify at all.

John Kristian Dahl has seen a steady decline (while still occasionally popping good races) for 4-5 seasons in a row now. But while he still manages to advance to the semis or finals a few times each season, his bad races are just getting worse and worse.

The Finns, Nousiainen and Heikkinen don’t do quite as many sprints each season as some of the specialists, so one might expect their results to be a bit more erratic. Northug’s inclusion here is probably somewhat marginal, stemming from his struggles with injury and illness that prevented him from doing more sprints. I sort of doubt that his actual sprinting abilities declined all that much.

Most Improved: Women’s Sprint

Moving right along to the most improved women’s sprinter (at least, according to the metric laid out in this post).

Here’s the collection:

As usual, you can click on it for a slightly larger version.

Once again, I think we’re seeing that North America had a pretty across the board incredible year in sprinting, with Chandra Crawford making continued progress. The list of North Americans who had strong sprint races on the World Cup this year is quite long.

Van Der Graff, Kylloenen and Oestberg all have patterns that look roughly similar: young-ish skiers on a fairly steep improvement curve.

Kowalczyk sneaks in here with an increase in podiums basically (along with the usual smattering of “off” races), but it’s hard to make out in the graph due to some over plotting of points. Despite a sudden lack of consistency from Ingemarsdotter, she qualified through to the semifinals considerably more often this season.

Gaia Vuerich, Anastasia Dotsenko and Alenka Cebasek are skiers I don’t know much about, but they all appear to be fairly young. Given the women’s field, young sprinters showing dramatic improvement from the 40’s-50’s down into the 20’s-30’s isn’t all that uncommon. We’ll see if they can stick around…

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