See here for an explanation of these graphs.
The men’s race:
And the women’s race:
See here for an explanation of these graphs.
The men’s race:
And the women’s race:
As we approach the Tour de Ski, this is a short assessment of how the US and Canadian teams are doing so far compared to previous seasons. As I typically do, I’m going to include all World Cup results, rather than just the best results. Clearly, there have been some strong results for both the US men and women thus far, but I’m frequently more interested in how we’re doing as a group, top to bottom.
Starting with the distance events:
For the math-challenged out there, this is every US and Canadian distance result over the past several seasons. The lines represent the middle (Median) result and the top 20% (Quintile 1) and the bottom 20% (Quintile 5). The Canadians have just generally struggled all around so far.
Comparing the US men and women reveals the now standard difference. The US women have been improving steadily over several seasons across the board. Their worst results have improved about as much as their best ones. For the men, their best results have been flat, or possible improved slightly, depending on the time frame you want to look at. Up to this season, their worst results had also been improving. One mitigating factor here is that a fair number of the period one races were in Canada, which allowed for a deeper than usual American field. This means it’s more likely you’re going to see “marginal” starters being somewhat over-represented here. Of course, the counter-point is that the US women had the same race schedule…
As for sprinting:
This is essentially the same post, only we’re plotting the final finishing place. It might be mildly surprising to see the US women’s trend lines running basically flat or even sloping up slightly, but if you think clearly about just the results we’ve had so far this season it makes sense. The women have put together some good sprint races, but Kikkan had one “off” sprint race, and Jessie Diggins has only made it past the qualification round once. So if Ida Sargent continues to have a strong season, and Diggins comes along later on, I think we’ll those numbers improve quite a bit relative to where they are now.
Once again, the less said about the Canadians, the better, except that I’m betting the rest of the season won’t be this bad. Maybe not awesome, but certainly not this bad.
Anytime the World Cup hits North America, the issue of weaker fields always comes up. Frequently, even when American or Canadian skiers do seemingly very well here, there’s always that nagging feeling about how that result would translate to a more “complete” World Cup field in Europe.
Overall, I think the US results in particular were strong enough that I think we should be comfortable with them on their own. But it’s still an interesting question, so let’s see what we can cook up.
My general approach for this kind of problem is to compare people to a specific collection of other skiers. So let’s walk through how this will work using Ida Sargent’s 14th on Sunday as an example.
Consider all the skiers in Sunday’s pursuit who have done at least 3 mass start or pursuit style races over the past year or so. Suppose we calculate Sargent’s percent back relative to these athletes. Now, armed with those percent back values, we can go back and look at where that would have placed Sargent in each of the similar World Cup races the other competitors had done.
Then we can take the median as a sort of prediction for how Sargent’s effort would be expected to play out in a regular field.
So let’s take a look at the results for the Canmore distance races:
These are all the North American top 30 results from the two distance races. Each skier’s actual result is in red, and their projected result in a “full” field is the black dot. The ranges plotted along with the projected results are provided to give you a sense of how variable even “full” World Cup fields can be, i.e. considerably.
Note that all of the projected results are worse than the actual results, which is what we’d expect from a weaker field. But in many cases, they are not worse by very much at all.
For instance, the women’s results from Thursday were probably right on the nose of where they would have landed in a fuller field. The rest would probably only have been moderately to slightly worse worse, with the possible exception of Elliott’s race on Sunday, probably because the 20th-40th range is the area most likely to get more competitive in a stronger field.
I did the same thing with the sprint race, treating the qualification round the same way I would a distance race: Read more
Thanks to a very helpful Bothan (who did not die to bring me this information!) I got a hold of the full birth dates of FIS registered XC skiers. That opens up a whole lot of new territory for me, but first things first: we need to talk about data quality.
One minor caveat about this data is that I think this birthday data is essentially self reported, i.e. FIS gets it from the athlete’s application for a FIS license. So presumably there could be (and probably are) a few errors in there from handwriting and transcription errors.
But a casual inspection of the birthdays quickly reveals that over 13% of the birthdays are on Jan 1st. That’s well over 3000 people, total. The next most common birthday is Sept 1st, which only occurs 106 times. Clearly, most of these Jan 1st birthdays are simply placeholders when only the year of birth is known. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of them are for people born in 1975 or earlier.
This means that I just kept a lookout for anything interesting that popped up with a Jan 1st birthday, with every intention of verifying it, and if necessary simply ignoring it. So in addition to skiers too old to even be in my data base, we’re also likely undercounting things because of all the people with “placeholder” birthdays of Jan 1st. But probably not by a ton, since as I discuss below, even just racing on your birthday is going to be pretty rare.
Ok, done to business. After Tim Tscharnke’s win last week on his birthday, we obviously want to know if that has happened before?
The answer is actually yes! Including Tscharnke, I’ve found 5 skiers who have won a World Cup race on their birthday, since 1992. In fact, it’s not even the first time it’s happened in Canada! Interestingly, basically all of them are people everyone knows about, and it’s happened several times within the last 4-5 years.
The “first” time it happened (remember, I can’t say anything about pre-1992) was Thomas Alsgaard, winning a 30k freestyle race on 1998-01-10. The next time it happened was Boerre Naess in a classic sprint (in Canada!) on 2008-01-23.
The next two are interesting, since we all really should have noticed and remembered these. Petter Northug won a Tour de Ski stage on 2010-01-06, and then just over two weeks later Justyna Kowalczyk did the same thing, winning a 15k pursuit on 2010-01-23!
And then of course, we have Tim Tscharnke just last week.
If we expand out sights to podiums, the list doesn’t grow as much as I thought it would. If you think about it, it makes sense that these things are going to be rare. Right off the bat you’re eliminating anyone not born in the winter. And then there are only 20 or so World Cup races each winter, so you’re birthday would have to land on one of those days.
I’ve found 13 instances of people reaching the top 3 on their birthday, and that includes the five I’ve already listed. Two of the podiums are again from Northug and Kowalczyk. The Northug one is particularly crazy. In 2010 he won the TdS stage on Jan 6th, a 35k freestyle handicap start. The next year, in 2011, he finished 3rd in the exact same stage!
(Obviously, I’m counting TdS stages as World Cup events here…)
The other birthday podium-ers are: Christian Hoffman – 2001-12-12 (Boo!), Vladimir Smirnov – 1992-03-07, Fulvio Valbusa – 2003-02-15, Katerina Neumannova – 2002-02-15, Jens Arne Svartedal – 2009-02-14, and Pirjo Muranen – 2000-03-08. Neumannova’s podium was actually an Olympic race at Salt Lake, day two of the pursuit.
One thing I’d like to look at in the future is whether people ski faster on their birthday than they usually do. Given the rarity of simply racing on your birthday, this will be somewhat of a challenge. It’s only happened 185 times that I can verify (i.e. not on Jan 1st) total, across all skiers I track. But at least with this data I can actually give it a try…
I know the name was changed (again?) to a skiathlon. I refuse to comply.
And the men: