Winning On Your Birthday

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…

Related posts:

  1. Finn Haagen Krogh: Northug 2.0?
  2. Is Petter Northug Serious?
  3. Rogla Sprints
  4. Seward’s Mt. Marathon Winning Times
  5. World Cup Winning Streaks

About Joran

Comments

4 Responses to “Winning On Your Birthday”
  1. Audrey says:

    Joran,

    Your point about January 1st birthdays reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that athletes born earlier in the calendar year are more likely to excel in sports because they’re always closer to the age cutoffs throughout their development. (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=merron/081208)

    You may have posted about this before, but I’d be interested to know the data for this in skiing — whether there are significantly more January and February birthdays at the top of the ranking lists than later months. At the World Cup level, but also nationally and regionally.

    -Audrey

    • Joran says:

      That’s an interesting idea, I’ll be sure to take a look. In addition to the “missing data” explanation for the Jan 1st birthdays, it also crossed my mind that some of them might be from people “fudging” their birthday as juniors to influence their age group classification. I didn’t actually look up whether Jan 1st would be the relevant date to make that work, so I have no idea if that’s even possible.

  2. Fiona says:

    So I got curious and looked up a bunch of the other skiers who win a lot of races.

    Cologna seems to not win an awful lot on his birthday (March 11th).

    Bjorgen won the World Cup final on her 30th birthday (March 21, 2010, of course), but it was a pursuit and she didn’t have the fastest time of the day.

    • Joran says:

      True, I excluded stage race overall wins, so I missed that one from Bjoergen. Although, as you note, that stuff will depend on how exactly you count a “win”. I’m looking forward to delving in a little deeper and seeing if I can find more people like Cologna who might seem to ski particularly worse than usual on his birthday.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!