Kris Freeman Off The US Ski Team

The USST has just officially announced the team for next season, although we already knew quite a bit based on what several of the athletes have been saying.

Probably the biggest news is that Kris Freeman is no longer on the team at all. Not bumped down to the B-Team. Removed entirely, although apparently also being told that he will “almost certainly” still be named to the Olympic squad next year in Sochi.

Heading into this spring, I was actually expecting Freeman’s status on the team to change. He had fallen out of the red group on the World Cup, and generally he’s had two rough seasons in a row now. Let’s look more closely using the simple metric of finishing place, which is generally what’s going to matter to the USST in general:

freeman2

 

These are Freeman’s distance results in WC/WSC/OWG races, with his median result by season in blue. Thirtieth place is indicated in red for reference. As we all know, Freeman has always been erratic, which isn’t surprising considering the medical issues he’s had to deal with. From 2006 to 2011 his median, or “typical” result could pretty easily be counted on to be in the points (although not always by much). And he’d typically have one, or maybe two, races each season where he’d get within spitting distance of the podium.

While the 2010-2011 campaign doesn’t include some of his very best races, you could make an argument that with 5 races in the top 15 it was his most consistently strong season.

But the last two seasons have seen a fairly dramatic slide, to the point where Freeman has been considerably more likely to be outside the points. For another look at this same data consider this:

freeman3

 

The bars represent each distance race for Freeman, with the light blue indicating top 30 results and the dark blue representing top 15 results. From this perspective, his 2003-2004 and 2010-2011 seasons start to look somewhat like outliers. I was particularly interested in Freeman’s comments about how he believes that part of his problem this year was that he raced too much, and plans on cutting back next year. I wouldn’t have guessed that that would be the big issue, looking at this graph, particularly the last three seasons. But I’m working on very incomplete information, obviously.

On a slightly less data-driven note, I really don’t see the logic behind bumping Freeman entirely, as opposed to simply dropping him down to the B-Team. The rationale has to be almost entirely financial, which sadly is too often a very good reason for making tough choices in US skiing. But as a fan, it’s very difficult for me to judge this decision on the merits because I’m not familiar with the precise financial constraints that the US Ski Team operates under.

Given Freeman’s drop-off in performance, it seems at least reasonable to bump him down from the A-Team. But how much money does the team save by not naming him to the B-Team? What will that money be spent on instead? I’m not aware if the US Ski Team publishes detailed budget information (I doubt it, though), but that sort of information might go a long way towards reducing confusion and consternation amongst US skiing fans. Then again, releasing that information might dramatically increase confusion and consternation as well on countless other issues outside of Kris Freeman. Who knows.

All I know is that I can’t reasonably judge whether this decision about Freeman seems like the right call without knowing exactly how much money it saves the team, and how much money that represents in the context of the rest of the nordic team’s budget.

Most Unimproved: Women’s Distance

Last of the distance events, this time the women who stumbled the most this season compared to last:

most_unimprovedw2012

 

As always, I’m graphing only one of the several metrics that are blended together to select these skiers. In particular, note that Anna Haag doesn’t look like she belongs on this list. However, several of her other metric declined somewhat. There are a few other marginal cases here, probably Hanna Kolb and Vibeke Skofterud and maybe Laurien Van der Graaff (due to small sample size).

Marthe Kristoffersen clearly must have had injury or illness issues, although I wasn’t following her closely so I can’t say for sure.

In Stefanie Boehler’s case it looks sort of like there’s been a steady decline for several years, but last season she managed a bit of a resurgence suddenly.

Oxana Jatskaja and Elena Kolomina are probably the two most dramatic cases in this bunch.

I expected Jessie Diggins to make this list all the way back at the end of last season. After a superb first season on the World Cup, there was very little chance that she’d actually outperform herself on average, particularly with more starts on her schedule.

Most Unimproved: Men’s Distance

This is the group of men who had some of the biggest slides backwards this season, although as we’ll see it is sort of an odd collection.

most_unimprovedm2012

Unlike both of the previous most improved posts, this group of skiers seems to include some people who shouldn’t be here. Part of that is that I’m using a blend of 3-4 different measures to rank people, but I can only effectively graph one of those. So for example, Dario Cologna didn’t really have a huge slide backward this year, but on some measures he wasn’t quite as brilliant as last year. A similar story applies to both Glavatskikh and Turyshev.

However, most of the rest of the group probably deserves to be here. The Canadian men Harvey and Kershaw obviously both had pretty rough seasons, particularly in comparison to last year. Sami Jauhojaervi appears to have been gradually sliding back for several seasons. The small number of races this year makes me think he may have had injury/illness issues. I wonder the same thing about Niklas Dyrhaug, who is relatively young and had a very strong season last year, but didn’t race nearly as well this season.

Most Improved: Women’s Distance

Now for the “most improved” women’s distance skiers on the World Cup circuit this season, compared to last season. As always, this is based on an amalgamation of measures, in order to include improvements in one’s average performance, as well as one’s best races.

Here are the top 12:

most_improvedw2012

 

As usual, due to some scaling, people improving from the middle/bottom of the pack are treated roughly the same as people improving from the top of the field. So while Therese Johaug’s average race didn’t improve much (how could it?) she did manage to have a handful of absolutely stellar performances that bumped up her best races compared to last season. After plateauing or even sliding back slightly last season, Liz Stephen made some pretty big strides this year. I’m looking for her to sustain that next season, not make another jump of the same size.

We also have some women who made some big jumps from the back or middle of the field, like Mariya Guschina and Ilaria Debertolis.

The trajectories for the Finns Anne Kylloenen and Kerttu Niskanen are certainly encouraging for the future…

Most Improved: Men’s Distance

Now that the World Cup season has wrapped up, it’s time for a series of graphs looking at who made big jumps, in either direction, this year. We’ll start with the most improved in the men’s distance events.

The criteria here is sort of a blend of different measures, with an adjustment for scale, so that faster skiers don’t get penalized for it being harder to improve from, say 15th to 5th.

most_improvedm2012

 

These are the 12 “most improved” men’s distance skiers (only median percent back is plotted, obviously, though the metric included several factors). I wasn’t expecting Daniel Rickardsson to show up here, for some reason, but I suppose he had an unusually bad season previously. It’s pretty easy to I think to be a bit down about how the Canadian men performed this winter, so it’s interesting to see Ivan Babikov do well by this metric. What’s helping him here is a modest improvement in his median result, and then a major improvement in his best 4-5 races.

Both Italian Dietmar Noeckler and Austrian Johannes Duerr weren’t terribly fast in an absolute sense, but they both made major jumps this year. They might be people to watch out for next year, if they keep that up.