Missed Medals

Missed Medals

A reader asked on Twitter the other day if I’d recalculate the tallies for Kris Freeman’s top ten, top three, etc. results if we went back and removed a certain Estonian skier from prior results sheets.

I’m going to preface this with some standard caveats about how I can’t know for sure when Andrus Veerpalu was clean or not clean. He certainly failed a drug test recently, and the way public opinion works with doping is that basically all his results are now suspect. I’m agnostic on that question, but since this was a fairly interesting data exercise, I thought I indulge the haters out there.

But I’m going to take it one step further and tally the missed opportunities for all skiers, not just Freeman, if we remove Veerpalu. We’ll start with the least important consequences and work our way up.

There were 78 different skiers who would have moved up into the World Cup points (from 31st to 30th) if you removed Veerpalu. There wasn’t really one skier who bore the brunt of this; the most it happened to any one skier was 3 times. North Americans in this group include Kris Freeman, Carl Swenson, George Grey,  and  Dan Roycroft, all once.

Next, removing Veerpalu will move some skiers up from 11th to 10th. This was also fairly evenly spread out among 43 different skiers, including Carl Swenson again.

More dramatically, removing Veerpalu from the results will bump 13 different skiers up from 4th to 3rd. Here is where we finally include Freeman’s famous WSC “medal”. Also notable is that Mathias Fredricksson would gain three more podium finishes in WC races due to this change.

Finally, the big kahuna, and I was a little shocked at the results. There were five skiers who would gain a victory out of this transaction. Two Olympic gold medals and two WSC gold medals. When Veerpalu’s ten wins get apportioned out, one skier gets five of them: Frode Estil. And it kind of makes sense, since he was another classic ultra-specialist.

I didn’t bother removing any of the Finns or Russians (although a lot of the Russians who’ve been caught haven’t been nearly as accomplished). Perhaps I’ll tackle that in a follow up. Read more

The Veerpalu Saga Ends (For Now)

With the recent news that Andrus Veerpalu’s doping suspension has been made official, a sad story sort of ends. I’m always glad to see doping rules enforced, but it’s also not the way I want to hear about my favorite sport in the news.

Over the years, Veerpalu has raced against many people:

Name Number of Races
MAE Jaak 138
DI CENTA Giorgio 106
BATORY Ivan 102
BAUER Lukas 94
VITTOZ Vincent 92
HJELMESET Odd-Bjoern 90
VALBUSA Fulvio 90
BAJCICAK Martin 81
IMAI Hiroyuki 80
HASLER Markus 78
ESTIL Frode 76
ANGERER Tobias 75
AUKLAND Anders 71
EBISAWA Katsuhito 70



Of the folks he’s raced against the most, the following graph shows how each has fared, overall:

Negative values (left) mean that skier tended to fare better against Veerpalu, and vice versa. We’ll probably never know how much Veerpalu cheated, exactly when, or for how long. But the folks who raced against him a lot whom he often beat (e.g. Hjelmeset, Sommerfeldt) are probably wondering.

For the record, I’ve posted plenty of times on Veerpalu in the past.

Revisiting The Mysteries Of Andrus Veerpalu

With somewhat cryptic reports appearing that Andrus Veerpalu failed a drug test back in January (he retired just before World Championships this year), it’s probably a good idea to revisit my old post on the subject. In that post I considered the conventional wisdom about Veerpalu that he had an uncanny ability to pop outstanding races in big championship events. When I looked at all of his results as measured simply by rank, my basic conclusion was that he sometimes seemed to do this, but the difference wasn’t huge, and I could find some examples of skiers that were more extreme instances of people over-performing at major championships. In the end, I thought his record was ambiguous, but I could see why people would say this about him.

In this post, I think I’m going to end up backing off of my skepticism a little bit, but not because of an unconfirmed drug positive. Rather, if we acknowledge that Veerpalu was an extreme classic specialist, so much so that over his entire career he’s done 98 classic races and only 16 freestyle once (and 19 pursuits in various formats), and use a somewhat more sophisticated measure of performance, things begin to look a little different. If we focus in on just his classic races, plotting them by standardized percent back from the median skier we get the following: Read more

The Mysteries of Andrus Veerpalu

Update: In light of recent events (as of Apr 2011) a lot of people have been visiting this post, so I thought I’d point out that I’ve updated it with a slightly more focused look at Veerpalu’s record here.

To mark last weekend’s World Cup races in Estonia, I thought a post on Andrus Veerpalu would be in order.

I’ve heard it said, from various sources, that Estonian skier Andrus Veerpalu1 has a particular ability to show up at major competitions (i.e. Olympics, World Championships) and significantly over perform, based on his results that season.  Naturally, this observation is often accompanied with little suggestive commentary on his pharmacological habits.

My interest in this has little to do with doping allegations, which I doubt I’d be able to shed any light on.  Rather, I’m intrigued by the notion of a skier that is “clutch”.  I’m borrowing that term from American baseball or basketball, where it refers to players who appear able to perform at a higher level when the stakes are higher.  In nearly every case where I’ve read a serious statistical examination of this topic in those sports, it has been found to be a figment of our collective imaginations (though this conclusion remains somewhat controversial).

I’m not going to attempt a large scale debunking of this concept in skiing at the moment, as that’s a pretty big project.  Instead, let’s focus on two particular skiers, Andrus Veerpalu and Oxana Jatskaya (KAZ).

Read more

  1. Fun fact: Andrus Veerpalu has four children and their names all begin with the letter “A”.  His wife is named Angela.