Kris Freeman and Kikkan Randall have been basically the top US skiers for quite some time now. (I’m sort of brushing Andrew Newell under the rug here, mostly just due to time contraints. I’ll do a follow up on him next week.)
Freeman has been more or less unquestionably the best US male distance skier for what seems like forever, and Randall has been fairly dominant domestically in both distance and sprint events. How long can this last? Not forever, of course. Nothing lasts forever.
But it seems like the shift may happen sooner on the men’s side than the women’s. Here’s what I mean:
This shows the head-to-head results of Freeman against a handful of the better US men’s distance skiers in recent years. Certainly, Freeman has way more wins (above zero, in the pink) than losses (below zero, in the blue). But the gaps are generally narrowing.
Now, there’s a big caveat here in that I can’t say much about whether Freeman is getting slower, or these guys are getting faster, or even if Freeman is getting faster but these guys are getting faster faster. (That made you think for a second, didn’t it?) Or maybe they’re all getting slower, and Freeman is getting slower faster. (See, now I’m just having fun messing with your head.) The point is that these are just relative comparisons, not absolute ones.
In any case, what does the similar picture look like for Kikkan Randall? Read more
Since the interviews on the FIS websites is one of my main sources of post topics during the off season, we’ll continue in that vein with one from a while back with Øystein Pettersen. In it, he talks about how his focus this season is (unsurprisingly) the classic sprint at World Championships.
Pettersen has been slightly better at classic sprints, on average, but overall he’s been pretty balanced:
I guess I’d say that at least until the last two seasons, his classic sprinting has been slightly better, if only because it had been somewhat more consistent. In general, his consistency took a slight hit recently, with slightly more results falling outside the top 30.
This sort of track record would make him a shoe-in for the World Championship team in many other nations, but in Norway things are competitive enough that Pettersen notes in the the interview that he’ll have to qualify. So he’ll be doing as many classic sprints as he can leading up to WSCs in order to prove himself.
How competitive is that effort going to be? Well, let’s compare Pettersen directly to a handful of other top Norwegian male sprinters from last season: Read more
Continuing with my summer reading of XC news, I again perused an one of FIS’s short interviews, this time with Switzerland’s Laurien Van der Graaff.
Unlike Masako Ishida, whom we considered earlier this week, Van der Graaff is a sprint specialist, and a freestyle sprint specialist at that. Van der Graaff really did have a bit of a breakthrough season last year:
As you can see, it was only really her third season of racing “full time” at the World Cup level. She jumped from occasionally qualifying for the heat, to qualifying all but once, and continuing on through at least the semis numerous times.
She only did three classic sprints last season, so it’s not like she’s racing both techniques the same amount and doing better in one. You’d think that if she’s going to tackle that weak spot, she’ll have to start entering more classic sprints.
One thing that does concern me looking at her results from just last season is that she seemed to fade significantly as the season progressed: Read more
I was reading FIS’s interview with Japan’s Masako Ishida with interest, because I’ve really been rooting for her to pull off some strong results. In the interview, she mentions that some of her goals for next season include increasing her presence in the top 5, and in particular making the jump up to some podium finishes.
It’s not like she hasn’t been there before. She managed a 3rd place back in 2008-2009 in a 30k classic mass start. And last season she finished 5th twice (15k and 30k classic mass starts) and also finished 6th once (15k classic interval start).
You may have noticed a slight pattern there, which she also touches on in the interview:
So, like many Japanese skiers, Ishida performs dramatically better in classic races. If we look at only classic races, measured by finishing place (since that’s the metric she mentioned herself), we see the following: Read more
Kikkan Randall, the reigning women’s World Cup sprint champion, obviously had a pretty darn good season last year. How does it stack up against some of the best sprint seasons put together since 2005-2006?
The first thing that stood out to me is that if you rank the best women’s sprint seasons, Randall participated in more races that is typical. If you rank the seasons by the proportion times the athlete wins, reaches the podium, reaches the finals, etc. It turns out that of the 50 best women’s seasons, the average number of sprint races done is about 9. Kikkan raced in 13 World Cup sprints last season. If you can hack it that’s a good strategy, of course, since the World Cup title is based on total points accumulated.
But it also explains why by some measures, Randall’s 2012 season wasn’t as good as her 2011 season. (Which is kind of crazy, I know, but bear with me…)
She won a slightly smaller proportion of the sprint races she entered (0.154 vs 0.2) and she reached the podium in a slightly smaller proportion as well (0.385 vs. 0.4). So doing more races hurt her in this particular measure by “increasing the denominator”, but on the other hand, she reached the semifinals in all 13 races she entered, which helps to rack of the points.
In fact, only three other women with at least 8 sprint races in a season have managed to reach the semifinals each time: Virpi Kuitunen (2006-2007), Patre Majdic (2008-2009) and of course Marit Bjoergen (2009-2010, 2010-2011). Interestingly, Randall’s season was noticeably less dominant than the ones I just listed; they typically involved double or even triple the proportion of wins or podiums. That sort of reinforces to me that the key element in Randall’s ability to win the World Cup sprint title was her ability to do more races and do well enough in each one.
Interestingly, this pattern holds even when you look only at the freestyle races. Once again, her 2010-2011 campaign was very slightly better, when you measure the number of results as a proportion of freestyle sprints done. She did 7 freestyle sprints last year, and 6 the year before, so the difference in proportions here is really only the result of one race. For my money, the best single season freestyle sprinting campaign for women would be a toss-up between Petra Majdic and Arianna Follis, both in 2008-2009 ironically. They both did 8 freestyle sprints and the two of them won nearly all of them. Both were always in the semis, Follis reached the finals in all 8 while Majdic had more overall wins.