It’s remarked on in a few places that we might finally be seeing the effects of Kikkan Randall’s injury struggles over the summer. Another skier who had some strong early races and then has struggled as times during the season is Holly Brooks, so let’s look at their actual (WC, TDS and WSC) results from this season:
We can’t say much about Randall’s sprinting, since her most recent classic sprints aren’t really that far out of line with what we’d expect, and her freestyle sprints have been exactly what you’d expect. Similarly, we’d expect Randall’s distance results to tail off somewhat during the Tour, particularly after starting with a freestyle prologue. Still, the Tour was followed by a sub-par race and then no racing at all until WSC. I wouldn’t be surprised if she were sick briefly during that interim period as well. So there could be a lot going on here in addition to whatever effects her summer training may have had.
I think Brooks’ season is a little more clear cut, in terms of falling off slightly after the first 2-3 races. She’s shown a lot of promise at times, but just hasn’t managed to put together a full season yet. Hopefully she can rebound a bit during the final WC period.
The notion of an athlete preferring distance races of a particular length is pretty familiar, but what about sprinting? The differences between a 0.8km and a 1.8km sprint course may not seem like much compared to the differences between a 15km and 30km race. But (while I’m not a physiology expert) it seems likely to me that you could very well run into much more significant differences in the physiological demands at that smaller scale, in terms of what sorts of things your body needs to be efficient at.
That’s a long winded introduction to my having run through some simple linear mixed effects models that look at skiers who have a particular tendency to do better (or worse) in sprint races of different lengths. I’m going to start you off with the graph, which is fairly self-explanatory. But be warned, there will be quite a list of caveats…
The pool I’m drawing on here are folks who’ve done at least 10 major international (WC, OWG, etc.) sprint races. One tricky thing with sprints is what you use as your response variable. I’ve chosen four of the skiers who exhibited the strongest effect in one direction, towards better performance on longer courses. I’m using the final position (not qualification rank) here. In a lot of ways, looking only at qualification speed would be “cleaner”, but I wanted a measure that captured more than just one round of the event; a measure that reflected how well you actually performed in the sprint race as a whole.
Another big caveat here is that this graph represents all the athlete’s races, so we could be obscuring a confounding variable of changes over time. (I was particularly worried about that with Holly Brooks, but upon checking the raw data, that doesn’t seem to be the case.)
I’m going to start with Petra Majdic, because it’s a great opening into yet another factor that can be at play here. The effect of performing better on somewhat longer sprint courses for her is probably the weakest of the four. One interesting feature is the rather sharp cutoff at around 1.2km. Since Majdic is (was) one of the fields best sprinters, ever, how can we explain the apparent tendency to perform so much worse over shorter distances? Among many possible options, one things that comes to mind is that shorter courses will tend to make races more unpredictable. Being unlucky, in terms of crashes or stumbles, has a much larger effect. So we might expect less consistency from even the best skiers on shorter courses.
Holly Brooks is a somewhat dramatic example, particularly since so many of her results never went past qualification, so one could argue that we’re seeing something more directly reflective of her response to race effort length. On the other hand, our data for her are the most limited. Small sample size, and all that. The other two I’m not terribly familiar with.
On Thursday we’ll look at some folks with trends in the opposite direction…
Kris Freeman and Kikkan Randall have been basically the top US skiers for quite some time now. (I’m sort of brushing Andrew Newell under the rug here, mostly just due to time contraints. I’ll do a follow up on him next week.)
Freeman has been more or less unquestionably the best US male distance skier for what seems like forever, and Randall has been fairly dominant domestically in both distance and sprint events. How long can this last? Not forever, of course. Nothing lasts forever.
But it seems like the shift may happen sooner on the men’s side than the women’s. Here’s what I mean:
This shows the head-to-head results of Freeman against a handful of the better US men’s distance skiers in recent years. Certainly, Freeman has way more wins (above zero, in the pink) than losses (below zero, in the blue). But the gaps are generally narrowing.
Now, there’s a big caveat here in that I can’t say much about whether Freeman is getting slower, or these guys are getting faster, or even if Freeman is getting faster but these guys are getting faster faster. (That made you think for a second, didn’t it?) Or maybe they’re all getting slower, and Freeman is getting slower faster. (See, now I’m just having fun messing with your head.) The point is that these are just relative comparisons, not absolute ones.
In any case, what does the similar picture look like for Kikkan Randall? Read more
No, not that A-Team. (Although she’d probably kick some butt.)
As discussed recently over at FasterSkier, Brooks just missed qualifying via objective criteria, as she finished 55th in the World Cup overall. That means that if she’s named, it will have to be based upon some discretionary judgement by the coaches. I think you can make a pretty good case that Brooks deserves a spot.
First let’s review her distance results, compared to a few of her peers:
This doesn’t make her look very good, although she still comes out looking pretty favorably compared to Sargent and even Stephen, to a certain degree. But as we all know, Brooks broke her wrist over Christmas, and then proceeded to race through the injury for several weeks. What does her season look like if we drop her post-injury results? 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.
Each weekend seems to be an interesting mix of results for the North Americans. Starting with the women (Davos result circled in blue):
Compared to this season, that was an off day for Kikkan, but compared to last season that was pretty typical. Part of me wonders if she dialed it back a bit late in the race when she knew she wasn’t feeling strong to save some energy for the sprint. But as you can see from her graph, if that’s going to be her “bad” race this season, she’s going have a strong set of results this year.
I’m very cautious about jumping on bandwagons when someone pops a good race or two, but Holly Brooks is beginning to convince me. That’s three good (and one OK) distance results in a row now. More importantly, I like the direction her trend is heading. It’s still early, so it’ll only take a few mediocre races to flatten that trend out, but so far it looks promising.
You can’t deny that Liz Stephen has had some strong results so far this season. My only concern is that they have all been roughly where we’ve seen her topping out before. Can her good days inch up towards the top ten?
As for the men: Read more