I was chatting with some friends today about the difference in depth between the US men’s and women’s squads, particularly in distance events, so when I sat down to noodle around with some data I ended up making this graph:
This is all US men’s distance results for the past five seasons or so, but with some notable exceptions. First, I’ve removed all results from Kris Freeman and Noah Hoffman. Second, I’ve removed all prologues from stage races (this excluded 4-5 top 30 results, mostly by Andy Newell). Outside of Freeman and Hoffman, the US men average around 45th-55th place.
More strong early season performances from some Americans in Norway this weekend. How strong? Let’s take a look.
First up is Sadie Bjornsen who had a very strong 5th in the 10k classic.
Values above zero are good. The grey shaded region and red trend line represent how she has performed against these specific skiers in the past. She had already made a big jump last season, and this race was very strong even compared to that. Next up Noah Hoffman:
This is the better of his two races, the 15k freestyle. This result was considerably better than he normally does against this crowd compared to last season. His classic race (graph omitted) was somewhat worse that usual, but not dramatically so. Lastly, Liz Stephen had a strong result in the 10k freestyle:
She’s been on an upward trend for several seasons now, and this would suggest that might continue.
This first batch of races for 2013-2014 are in from Muonio, Finland. As always, it’s difficult to read much into a single race, particularly early season races like these. You never quite know who’s still in the midst of a big training block and how seriously people are approaching them.
Still, I thought it was interesting that Russian Petr Sedov won the last race of the weekend, the 15km freestyle. He’s still fairly young, and after a promising introduction to the World Cup he kind of slipped back a little last year, I think:
He had a handful of strong races last year, but was much less consistent in general. If we look at this Muonio 15km race in particular, we can get a better sense of the quality of his race by comparing how he did to each of the top 30 skiers at the Muonio race to how Sedov has fairly against those specific people in the past:
Values greater than zero are better for Sedov in this graph. The blue dots are the differences in percent back between Sedov and the other skiers at Muonio (he won, so they are all above zero). The shaded region with the red trend line summarizes how he’s fairly against this specific group of skiers in the past.
As you can see, he generally dominated them, and then last season struggled considerably, losing to this group almost as much as he beat them. If this is a sign of things to come, we could see more of the Petr Sedov from two years ago, or perhaps an improved version.
A little later than I’d intended, but here it is. Instead of just the previous season, this is a view of the difference in median FIS points in Europe versus in North American for all North American athletes, in all events. Since we’re looking at multiple years, the graph is a bit different. For each season, we have the center of the distribution of median differences (the median of the medians, if you will) and the bars represent the middle 50%.
This is interesting on a few levels. First, if you looked at just last season, and saw the the North American female sprinters were getting better points in Europe than in North America, there would be a temptation to attribute that to the increased success by folks like Kikkan, Jessie Diggins, Ida Sargeant, etc. But here we can see that the points for North American female sprinters have pretty much always been better in Europe!
The other three panels all to some degree show a shift away from good points in Europe towards better points in North American. It’s a weak trend for the male sprinters, but much stronger for both the male and female distance events. The other interesting difference is that there seemed to be a sharp jump for the men’s distance skiers in 2010-2011. Normally that would make me wonder about changes in the population (i.e. a sudden jump in the number of non-USST folks racing in Europe), but the fact that the other panels look so different makes me skeptical.
Last week I wrote about how US and Canadian skiers fared last season, in terms of FIS points, when racing in North America versus in Europe. That included a rather almost too perfect looking symmetric, normal distribution for the men’s sprinters. On it’s face this suggests that the difference in median points earned by North American sprinters in Europe versus at home, while possessing a fair bit of variation, is basically centered perfectly at “no difference”. A reader complained about this apparent statistical anomaly, so I offer the following:
This is the exact same plot, only instead of a density estimate I’ve used a simple histogram (yes, yes, I know, a histogram is a sort of density estimate). I suppose if you wanted to get all shamanic and read the tea leaves on this, you could argue that the four short bars on the extreme left of the men’s sprint panel argues for a less symmetric distribution than the density estimate showed. But I think we’re splitting hairs at that point.
The sample size here is what I’d call medium-ish, at around 75 individuals for the men’s sprint panel. I think the best argument against what I posted last week is not that the distribution appears remarkably symmetric, but that perhaps my choice of smoothing parameter for the density estimate (in truth, I simply used the defaults for my software) were perhaps a bit….aggressive for 76 data points.
Later in the week I’ll update this with a look at how these values have changed from season to season.
I thought I check in on the most recent season and compare the point availability for North American skiers in Europe versus at home. This was a pretty simple approach, I just took all US and Canadian skiers who raced in both North America and Europe last season (any race type) and calculated the difference in their median FIS points for the two locations. Finally, I did a simple density estimate on the difference to get this:
The x axis here is relative, not absolute. So -100 means a person’s median points in North America last season were 100% better than their median points in Europe. I’ve omitted the y axis labels entirely, since the idea here is to simply look at the shape of the curve, and where most of the area is located.
The men’s sprint panel sticks out like a sore thumb for being so damn perfect looking. This strongly suggests that as a group, North American male sprinters weren’t really any more likely to score better FIS points in Europe or “at home”. As the distribution makes clear, though, there is plenty of variation between individuals and how their particular races went at home and abroad.
While we’re on sprinting, my next biggest surprise was the women, who appear to have had a moderate trend towards scoring better sprint points in Europe. Before you start saying that Kikkan Randall is driving this, keep in mind that Kikkan only contributed a single value to that density estimate. Each individual skier only counts once in each graph. So maybe between Kikkan, Jessie Diggins, Ida Sargeant, etc., one might have expected some good points in Europe, but I wasn’t quite expecting it too be that clear.
The distance panels aren’t too surprising, I think. Even with the recent improvements for the US women in distance events, US and Canadian skiers are still much more likely score lower points in North America than in Europe.
Continuing on from earlier this week, we’ll look at some US men in the “development pipeline”, although I use that term pretty loosely. Basically I just mean some of the top US men who aren’t necessarily obviously going to be skiing WC full time or something. (Click for full versions.)
Miles Havlick and Erik Bjornsen are interesting cases, similar to Joanne Reid as I mentioned earlier. His FIS point trend is promising, but he’s mostly been on the “easy” part of the curve up until now.