How Continental Cup Winners Fare On The World Cup

I got an interesting question from a reader the other day that I though I’d follow up on:

As you know, the winners of all the continental cups gets to start the World Cup season. There are also intermediate rankings during the season that allows the current continental cup leaders to join the WC’s. My son , the skier, was wondering if you could do a comparison of how well the leaders and winners of continental cups fare when on the WC circuit? More specifically, how do Canada’s and the USA’s leaders and winners WC results compare to other continental cup skiers? Or have you already done this and I have missed the post?

So, this is harder to examine directly than it might seem, mostly due to the availability of data. FIS isn’t in the habit of publishing lists of Continental Cup leaders someplace that remains accessible for more than a year or so. (At least, not to my knowledge. If anyone knows of such a series of lists, I’d be happy to take a look.)

In particular, the starts awarded to the intermediate leaders during a season will be the hardest to track. Also, there’s the issue that sometimes the nominal Continental Cup leader may decline the starts, or be ineligible (wrong nation of origin) so you’d have to filter out those cases too.

To avoid getting lost in the technicalities of Continental Cups, let’s look at something that’s pretty close to the original question: take the top three skiers in each Continental Cup series at the end of a season, and look at how they did in the 1st period World Cup races the following season.

This will allow us to address the question of how the “best” Continental Cup skiers from different regions compare on the WC, without getting bogged down in too many details.

The following graph shows the median result for an aggregated collection of Continental Cup series:

Even though I’ve expanded this to the top three, rather than just the winner, it’s important to note that these results will be very strongly influenced by a single very strong skier from a particular region (I’m thinking Justyna Kowalczyk here, but there are other examples).

But this also means that it’s tough to glean any general trend, since the results from any particular region will be so strongly dependent on whether they happen to have a “super star” that year or not.

That said, I do think it’s clear that the Scandinavian and OPA Cup skiers are generally stronger on the men’s side. The women’s field, not surprisingly, is a little more mixed. The recent good fortunes among the women’s UST/NAC skiers is probably in large part to Jessie Diggins/Holly Brooks.

New Zealand Continental Cups Sprint

Continuing on in our over-analysis of the recent New Zealand FIS races, we turn to the sprints. It’s much harder to do anything sensible with these races (even given that I’ve over-analyzing things!) since the fields are so small even the difference in placing between specific skiers is potentially misleading. However, just for fun let’s focus like last time on a younger sprinter, Len Valjas:

Again, this is the difference in finishing place between Valjas and a selection of folks from the New Zealand sprint race. Positive values mean Valjas won and vice versa. Note that he finished a lot closer to some of these Russians that he normally does, but again, that may be a function of the small field. It’s hard to do much analysis on these sorts of races without the heat times.

My only other note is that Kris Freeman slightly underplayed how good his sprint FIS points were from this race. Here’s a graph of all the sprint qualification results I have for him with the New Zealand race in red:

Definitely good sprint FIS points for him, but it’s more like the 5-6th best all time. Of course, a lot of those are from a long time ago in potentially very different sprint race formats, distances and courses.

New Zealand Continental Cups

Hey, the first international ski races of the 2011-2012 season took place recently in New Zealand! They are officially FIS sanctioned races, but my impression is that they have a bit more of a training camp time trial feel to them. The Americans, Canadians, some Russians, and then an assortment of Japanese, Korean, and locals (Australia + New Zealand) are spending time down at the Snow Farm. The fields are small, no one is in top form and probably everyone is treating them as training rather than a ‘serious’ competition.

But heck, let’s (over) analyze them anyway, just for fun. These will be very short, narrowly focused posts on these races. The men did a mass start 15k classic race (no Russians). I suppose it’s interesting that Newell finished second, which is nominally pretty good for him in a distance race, but of course it’s hard to read much of anything into that. I’m generally more interested in the younger skiers. Take Noah Hoffman, for instance:

This graph shows how Hoffman has fared against these specific skiers (a subset of the folks in the New Zealand race) over time. The New Zealand race is in red. That appears right in line with how he fared against Freeman last season, so that’s a good sign. In general, he’s been faring better against Newell over time, but this particular race was a bit against that trend. Given that Hoffman was about as far behind Freeman as he normally is, I’d guess that’s evidence for this being a strong race for Newell rather than a weak one for Hoffman.

The corresponding women’s 10k classic mass start was interesting for data nerds like myself. It consisted of Justyna Kowalczyk and only 5 others (it’s possible other folks raced who don’t have valid FIS licenses, so they won’t show up on the official results) from Japan, Korea and New Zealand. Obviously, this made for a somewhat uneven field. Kowalczyk won by around 4 minutes.

This immediately gets someone like me wondering how that margin of victory stacks up historically. In this case, second place finisher Sumiko Ishigaki was ~13% back. That’s the third largest percent back by a second place finisher that I could find in a FIS sanctioned women’s race (out of 2691 total). That means that I found two races with larger margins between first and second place!

One of them is impressive, but plausible, being another instance of a tiny field. The other, the largest, is so outlandish that I spent a while trying to decide if it wasn’t in fact an error of some sort. I’ve mostly decided that it must be a mistake and the winning time was really 34:32 not 24:32. Perhaps a reader will fill me in on the details…