Let’s check in on where we’re at with Kikkan Randall and Devon Kershaw’s World Cup points situations. First, Kershaw:
I finally figured out a decently efficient way to track WC points during a season, that requires only a minimal amount of data entry by hand. Cologna’s going to walk away with this one, obviously, but one thing this graph reveals is that that’s largely a function of Northug’s choice of schedule (and subsequent illness). Cologna may have eventually beaten Northug anyway, but they were matching each other pretty evenly up until Northug essentially left the WC circuit for a few weeks.
Kershaw is probably safe from Hellner, given how the Swede has been skiing of late. Legkov is probably the bigger worry now. As for overtaking Northug, I’d say that Kershaw could certainly overtake him next weekend (especially if Northug skips those races as well). But Kershaw’s two most recent sub-standard sprints probably have made it impossible for him to stay ahead of Northug. At least, assuming Northug doesn’t completely collapse. You never know.
As for Randall:
Randall got some lucky breaks this weekend from her opponents with Matveeva just missing the finals and Kowalczyk, well, not winning. Kowalczyk finishing third, not first, makes a huge difference in the point gap between them. With only two more sprints to go, I’m willing to go out on a limb and predict that Kikkan has this locked up.
Well, suppose for a moment that someone pulls a Tonya Harding and Kikkan earns zero points in the remaining races cause she’s home with two broken kneecaps. Matveeva is currently the closest, so her path to winning is the easiest. She’d need to garner 139 points to move past Randall.
But the final sprint is part of a stage race, and hence is only worth half the points. To get 139 points, Matveeva would have to win in Drammen and finish in the top four in the World Cup Final sprint. If Matveeva does not win in Drammen, it’s over, mathematically speaking.
Indeed, the gaps to Falla and Kowalczyk are both larger than 150 now, so they can’t overtake her no matter what they do.
I hope Kikkan knows all this and that it makes her even more aggressive and pumped for the final two races!
A commenter on Monday’s post noted that there are some folks fairly close behind Kershaw in the WC overall, so he has more to worry about than just catching Petter Northug. In particular, Marcus Hellner is only 57 points back, while Alexander Legkov is fully 168 points back. Hellner is obviously the more immediate concern, but you can’t really count out Legkov. Then you have Maxim Vylegzhanin 270 back.
I’m going to approach this a bit differently than my last post. Starting with the schedule, we see that the end of the season is pretty heavily weighted towards classic skiing all around. We have 6 classic events, 2 (and a half) freestyle events and the pursuit. (The ‘half’ is the last stage of the World Cup Final, which apparently doesn’t count for WC points itself, but does contribute to the overall stage results.)
The good news for Kershaw is that he has tended to fare better against these guys in classic distance races, as compared to freestyle distance races:
Positive values here are better for Kershaw. So not only does he tend to do better against these four guys in classic races, the difference swings the most in his favor (although just barely in his favor) against Hellner and Legkov, his closest competitors.
On the other hand, basically the reverse is true for sprinting: Read more
That was the question in a comment I got the other day.
So here’s the situation. Devon Kershaw currently has 953 WC points, Petter Northug has 1199. Northug is apparently going to skip the next two weekends of WC racing in order to prepare for the Vasaloppet. Could Kershaw catch and overtake Northug in that time, and then hold onto second place through the rest of the WC season?
There is a ton of uncertainty in answering questions like this, so bear with me as I make some assumptions. Specifically, let’s assume that,
- Northug skips the WC races in Poland and Lahti, and also the Drammen sprints, but contests every remaining race on the schedule.
- Kershaw skis all the remaining races on the schedule.
Northug will be missing three sprints and two distance races. The remaining races consist of one sprint (Stockholm), three distance races (Oslo, first two stages of World Cup Final) and the World Cup Final overall stage results. (I’m not quite sure why the final handicap start stage of the World Cup Final isn’t listed in the WC points PDFs. In keeping with FIS’s sclerotic approach to race formats and scheduling this would be the only stage race event that doesn’t award WC points.)
So presumably Kershaw would have to make up the point gap, plus some breathing room since we probably can’t expect him to beat Northug in every remaining WC race.
The gap is currently 246 WC points. How many points above this would he need to feel safe in keeping Northug at bay?
So far this season when they’ve raced directly against each other, Northug has scored an average of about 13 more WC points per distance race and around 6 more WC points per sprint race. (I checked whether I needed to track point differences in regular vs stage WCs separately due to the different point scales, but the numbers turn out more or less the same.)
Naively carrying that forward would suggest that Kershaw would need a cushion of at least 45 WC points, not including the WC points awarded in the WCF overall. If we assume that Kershaw is unlikely to finish ahead of Northug in those overall standings, we’d need to tack on another 20-30 WC points as a conservative estimate.
So at the end of the day, let’s call that a grand total of around 315 WC points that Kershaw would need to pick up in the next three weekends alone.
That would mean averaging around 63 WC points for each of the next five races, through Drammen. (Third place is worth 60 points.) So if Kershaw really wants to control his own destiny here he doesn’t have much room for even the occasional 4th or 5th place finish.
However, due to the extremely non-linear nature of WC points, small changes in each athlete’s schedule, or a handful of unusually good or bad performances could alter this number considerably.
Suppose, for instance, that Northug wrecks himself in the Vasa, and develops some sort of minor illness. Then when he returns he’s a little flat and and has 1-2 really poor performances, outside the top 15. In this scenario Kershaw would have to pick up fewer WC points than the current gap of 246, since he’d still be outscoring Northug in the final four races.
So if you toss the assumption that Northug will continue to ski as well as he has the rest of the season, things look vastly more optimistic for Kershaw. He could conceivably only need to pick up 200 WC points while Northug is absent. He could probably do that in five races with a string of top tens, and the occasional podium.
In the end, though, you sort of have to put your money on Northug here. As the guy with the lead at the moment, and also just the stronger skier overall, he’s the one with the room for an occasional bad race or misstep. No matter what Northug does, Kershaw’s the one who’ll have to ski more or less flawlessly in basically every single remaining race. Which doesn’t leave much room for error.
A couple quick notes about some sprinting results.
Kershaw’s having a heck of a season. On of the things I’m been most impressed with is how much his sprinting has improved, which is something I feel like hasn’t been mentioned much in a lot of the coverage:
The circled result in the most recent Moscow sprint. Notice how while Kershaw’s median sprint result was improving somewhat between 2006 and 2010, his best result was actually getting somewhat worse each season. Then he had a very inconsistent season of sprint results last year. He hasn’t completely solved his occasional poor qualification effort problems, but look at how much better and more consistent his results are this season.
I threw all those other guys up there just for comparison.
I’m a little concerned about Newell. This will mark the second season in a row of his median result moving in the wrong direction. He still has no trouble qualifying, generally speaking, but for a guy with a reputation of struggling to advance through the heats, that trend is worrying. Len Valjas is qualifying much more consistently, which is a significant improvement.
I made the graph below several weeks ago around US nationals, but have been somewhat hesitant to post it. Once again, Torin Koos won a US Nationals sprint race and (kinda) won the other as well. Ever since Koos left the USST, every time he skis well domestically there’s lots of chatter from his fans about how crazy the USST was to kick him off, etc.
While I appreciate that Koos has a lot of fans (and deservedly so) I feel like a lot of the outrage I see expressed on his behalf assumes that his international results were more accomplished than they really were. Here’s what I mean:
This plot show the number of WC level sprint races (truncated at 2006 to consider a single race format with 30 qualifiers) where each skier advanced to a particular round.
So for example, it shows that for Simi Hamilton, in classic sprints, did 3 WC level sprints in 2010. Twice he advanced as far as the quarterfinals and once he only skied the qualification round. The bar segments for the qualification round are inverted to indicate that that’s generally a bad result.
Newell, as you might expect rarely fails to qualify for the elimination rounds, but only occasionally reaches the finals. This season (so far) appears to be worse than usual on that front.
In freestyle sprints, Koos was failing to advance past qualification around half the time, and never made it past the semis. But the real story are his classic results, which were on a dramatic decline after 2007. As it was, it wasn’t like he was advancing past the quarters all that much.
I want to be clear here that my point is not that Koos’s results were bad necessarily, just that I don’t think they were as good as a lot of his fans think they were, and that there was clear evidence that they were trending in the wrong direction.
One of the most awkward and uncomfortable aspects of running this blog has been talking about US and Canadian skiers who have either had bad results, or who’s results are not as good as conventional wisdom would suggest, in my opinion. Which is a little weird, because it’s not like I actually know any of these folks. But since I have swum in those general waters, we surely have friends in common, so it still feels awkward for me. I’m not sure why I point this out except that maybe it soothes my conscience a little bit.
What a weekend for North America!
It has to be said, so I”ll get it out of the way right at the top: the turn the World Cup takes through Russia is generally not fully attended and this year was the same, although perhaps not as dramatically as before. But there were plenty of notable absences, particularly on the men’s side.
Of course, I don’t think any of that makes 100 World Cup point any less sweet for Devon Kershaw. Not one bit.
But let’s focus on the Moscow sprints today. First the men’s finalists:
Notice that Dahl isn’t shown, since he was relegated in the final to 6th, so he wasn’t given a time in that heat. In what will perhaps become a theme for these races, it might not have been ideal for Kershaw to have won the qualification round by 1.5 seconds or so. Petersen skied considerably slower in qualification and the benefited from a rather slow quarterfinal.
Much of the pacing between round a racer doesn’t have much control over, of course. Backing off a bit in qualification has significant risks, and once you’re in the heats, you can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to control the pace; the other 5 skiers have some say in that. So there ends up being a certain amount of luck involved in these sprints, which is one of the reasons I’m not as passionate about them as I am the distance events.
However, the semifinals are a good counter-example to this kind of luck: Read more
Oh yeah, there were some distance races in Rogla on Saturday too, huh?
Once again, this will be short on the words; just some pretty pictures. The US women had another strong outing:
Once again I’d note the continued downward trends for Holly and Kikkan and the generally flat trend for Liz. (Ida still has too few races for trends to be particularly meaningful.) In particular, I would emphasize that Kikkan’s classic skiing is showing the sort of trend her freestyle skiing has shown for a few years now:
In Ivanova’s case, that race appears to be at her ceiling (or floor, I suppose if we associate down with better performance). As for Iksanova and Medvedeva, it’s still a bit early to tell, but it’s a good sign for those ladies to be starting out with results in the negative zone of these graphs.
A quick look at our lovely neighbors to the north!
I’m going to focus on the folks on the World Cup squad, starting with the men:
These are the WC level distance results (excluding Len Valjas). I confess I’m a little worried about Ivan Babikov, who had a rough season last year. His trend over the past four seasons appears to be headed in the wrong direction (albeit very slightly); we’ll see if he can rebound for some strong freestyle results this year.
Alex Harvey had an interesting season last year, and he’s still quite young. Given his age and how competitive he seemed in distance races last year at times, he’s the North American skier I’m most excited about at the moment. (Yes, even more than Kikkan Randall.)
Devon Kershaw also had a strong season last year, particularly in the Tour de Ski. One thing I wonder about is how well he’s been able to figure out travelling back and forth to Europe. My only reason for saying that is the odd ‘clustering’ effect you can see in the last three seasons of his distance results. They each show two distinct groups of results, one very strong cluster and one more mediocre cluster. For instance, last year he seemed to fade into March. What I’m keeping my eye on with him is consistency, then. Can he sustain those top level results through an entire season?
The women are more focused on sprinting: Read more