And the women:
Listening to the FasterSkier podcast today, Topher and Nat discussed the notion that the Canadian men frequently seem to struggle early in the season. If we’re talking about how “the Canadian men” perform on the WC level, let’s focus on Kershaw, Harvey and Babikov, since they’ve been the “regulars” on the WC circuit for the longest stretch of time.
I present the following graphs with no commentary. Nat and Topher can draw whatever conclusions they please.
Starting with Kershaw:
We’re looking simply at finishing place so that we can put everything on the same scale, and hence on the same graph. Thirtieth place is marked with the red line. Next, Harvey: Read more
Continuing on with some notes about the World Cup opener in Gällivare last weekend.
It’s always the case in a season opener that much will be made of a handful of people who had unexpectedly good or bad races. Usually, this is an overreaction. But let’s play that game anyway and look at two skiers chosen more or less at random: Andrew Musgrave and Justyna Kowalczyk.
This is a graph of each of their major international results over different points in the season, with the Gällivare race highlighted in red. As you can see, Kowalczyk seems to have a bit of a tendency to start off fairly slow (I believe she said as much herself after this weekend’s race). Still, her Gällivare race was somewhat worse than usual for her, even this early in the season.
On the other hand, Andrew Musgrave tends to display the opposite trend, skiing considerably faster early in the season than late. And, like Kowalczyk, his race in Gällivare was unusually good for him, even granting his overall trend throughout the course of a season.
US Women’s Depth
The relay aside, the US women displayed a level of team depth in Saturday’s individual race that we really haven’t seen in a distance race in a long time. The US (men or women) have only placed two skiers in the top ten in a distance race twice since 1992: the Gällivare 10k freestyle, and the 2.5k prologue at the World Cup Finals last season (Kikkan Randall was 7th, Jessie Diggins was 8th). And the prologue probably doesn’t even really count as a “real” distance race for many people…
The Canadians, of course, have managed to place two skiers in the top ten much more frequently. The Canadian men (mostly Harvey and Kershaw, of course) have done this 16 times, and the women two times (Beckie Scott and Sara Renner). Only two of those races (both men’s events) were short, prologue style events, and there is a healthy mix of classic, freestyle and pursuits in the mix. Not terribly surprising, given Harvey and Kershaw’s ability to contend for the WC overall title recently.
Finally, just as a reminder that when it comes to the World Cup women’s field, it’s Norway’s world and we just live in it. The individual race on Saturday saw 10 Norwegians in the top 30. Then Sweden with 6 in the points, followed by Finland with 5. The rest was rounded out by the US (3), Russia (3), Germany (2) and Poland (1).
And of course who couldn’t notice that the times on Saturday was extraordinarily fast? How extraordinarily fast? Well, I’ll tell you:
Those are the top 15 times for (almost) all men’s 15k freestyle races and (almost) all women’s 10k freestyle races. I’ve omitted the handful of men’s 15k handicap start events, since the times from those are always a little wacky. Also, there’s a single women’s 10k from 1995 that happens to be one of my “problem races”. The FIS website says that it was a 10k, but the times are all well over 40 minutes. The men did a 15k that same weekend, with reasonable looking times (mid-30s), so I’m not sure what’s up.
In any case, the Gällivare races were clearly some of the fastest on record, ever.
Not much to say, really, about the US women this past weekend. The relays aren’t really something I tackle from a data perspective, so I’ll just focus on the distance results form Saturday.
It was a strong day, that sounds like it could have been stronger for the US women, absent some falls. I went back and grabbed the US and Canadian results in the first WC distance race for the past 20 years or so and graphed them below:
I included the Canadians here for context, and the performance measure on the y axis is simply finishing place. I’ve marked the top 30 with a red line. An absence of dots means that we simply didn’t enter many (or any) skiers in the first WC distance race that year. The variations in that regard are also interesting.
Needless to say, a strong day for the US women. In general, this race was a bit unusual, in that the conditions appeared to be extremely fast, which resulted in a much, much tighter race than is typical in an interval start format on the World Cup.
One of the more exciting stories out of the early season FIS races in Muonio, Finland was the strong performances from Liz Stephen. Now, being a cautious, data centric guy, I also tend to be a bit of a downer. So I am loathe to predict much based on a single race, although there have been other signs of dramatically improvements from her, such as her dominant win at the Climb To The Castle roller-ski race. Still, I remain only cautiously optimistic.
One interesting way to look at things is this. Stephen was only 4.5 seconds behind Justyna Kowalczyk in the Muonio 10k freestyle race. If she had been the same percentage behind Kowalczyk in every interval start distance race last season, Stephen would have accumulated 7 top tens and 4 podiums. So the big question in my mind is (ignoring the question of whether Kowalczyk had a good day that day) was this Muonio race more like Stephen’s ceiling, or her average? If it’s more like the former, than I’d say she has a decent shot at maybe 1-2 top tens this season, but still a significant long shot for a podium. If this was more like an average race for her, then, well, we’re in for an exciting season indeed. And of course there’s plenty of room in between those two extremes.
For completeness, let’s look at graphs that compare Stephen’s results in the Muonio freestyle and classic races versus only the top 30 in each respective race that’s she’s face before in the past. First the freestyle race: Read more
Lots of racing this weekend, obviously, but the Muonio results only appeared on the FIS website today, so they’ll wait for later in the week. I was intrigued, though, but Therese Johaug’s strong races in Norway.
For many reasons, it will be difficult to accurately parse early season results this year. Many people are focused on mid-season events like the Tour de Ski and World Championships, so it’s hard to say what kind of shape everyone is in now. However, I think it was interesting that Johaug beat Bjoergen twice this weekend.
How does that look compared to how the two have fared against each other over the long term?
Up in this graph is better for Johaug. As we can see, both victories were good races (clearly) but not radically out of character. Johaug racked up a fair number of wins against Bjoergen last season, and the trajectory has been swinging in her direction. Will that continue this season? We shall see…