Stephen’s Climb to the Castle Margin

Liz Stephen destroyed the women’s field this weekend in the annual Climb to the Castle rollerski race. The margin, just over 5 minutes in a race that took the leaders between 40-45 minutes is certainly impressive. But I think that margin doesn’t provide much useful information.

Time trials that are most useful as gauges of performance trends are the ones that have the most stable, repeatable conditions. I believe Climb to the Castle has everyone using identical roller skis (at least that’s my recollection) and that helps. But as noted in the coverage, road and weather conditions can pretty severely impact times. In that light, the fact that Stephen covered the course more than a minute faster than last year in worse conditions is certainly a more reliably good indicator.

But even then, it’s sort of crucial to note how the race dynamics played out. Stephen skied alone basically the whole way this year. Last year, it sounded like she skied alone for over half the race. That will tend to make those efforts more similar to those produced by a interval start race, which are easier to compare, I think. For example, it’s hard to read much into the fact that Sargent skied around 2.5 minutes slower this time around, since once Stephen was off the front it’s easy for “group racing” mentalities to take over common in mass start events that slow the pace.

Even if we ignore all that, consider than Sargent and Diggins were around 12.3% and 11.7% behind Stephen. Looks at their head-to-head results from recent history, it’s hard to believe that Stephen really is that much faster than Sargent and Diggins:

Diggins was actually frequently faster than Stephen last season, and even then it was unusual for the margin between them to be more than 2.5% in either direction. Even Sargent, who had somewhat of a rough season, was almost never more than 10% behind Stephen.

As a data guy, I’d love to see Climb to the Castle run as an interval start race, which would somewhat improve it’s use as a benchmark, but you’d still have a hard time accounting for differences in weather, particularly wind. But obviously, that’s logistically more complicated.

How long will Freeman and Randall remain on top?

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

Rogla Distance Races

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:

Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw were probably hoping for more on Saturday, and although their results weren’t terrible, they also weren’t all that great (for them):

The final thing I’ll note is that I noticed that the Russian women put three folks in the top ten on Saturday, a fairly strong showing for them. A sign of a resurgence for the Russian women? Well…

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.


Checking In On The Scando Cup

As always, it’s nice to see plenty of North Americans jaunting around Europe getting in some good racing. I returned from my travels this weekend to learn that some Americans had some strong results at the Scandinavian Cups in Estonia. Let’s take a bit of a closer look at the distance results, shall we?

First off, Reese Hanneman was the only American to race the 15km classic race. As best as I can tell, there were precisely two athletes in that race that he’d faced before, both of them at World Juniors last season. (In both cases he still lost to them, but by much, much less.) So I’m not even going to touch that one. Too little data.

Even for the women, the number of athletes that have faced each other before is fairly small, so keep that in mind as I run through this. Let’s start with Ida Sargent, who finished 21st, earning her 67.77 FIS points, which is quite good for her:

Excellent! Lower points is always a good thing. However, what happens when we look directly at how she skied that day compared to her performances against those specific skiers in the past? Read more

Assessing The Weekend’s Races: Sprint

So on Monday I posted some graphs that were intended to provide some context for some of the distance race results over the weekend.  Sprinting wasn’t left out in the cold because I dislike it (although, to be fair, I’m sort of a traditionalist in this respect; I will always love distance racing more, sorry!), but because it’s much harder to do meaningful analyses on sprint races.

But it’s just not fair for me to ignore sprinting, so even if it’s not ideal, I should at least try.  What follows is essentially the same analysis I did for the distance events, but for the qualification round of the sprint races only.  So all of this only applies to one’s ability to qualify, relative to the other competitors.  An important aspect of sprinting, to be sure, but only part of the story.

Since the qualification round is really just a mini-interval start race, we can treat it that way and make graphs just like I did on Monday.  I’m going to focus on three people whose performances I found particularly interesting: Kikkan Randall, Ida Sargent and Torin Koos.

First up, the most clear cut case of Kikkan Randall’s sprint qualification result in Muonio: Read more

Assessing The Weekend’s Racing

This past weekend was chock full of racing in Finland, Norway and Sweden.  There’s way too much for me to analyze, even looking at just the North Americans, so I’m going to focus in on just a few performances that I found particularly interesting.  Even so, this post will be quite long.

Results ranged from Kikkan Randall and Kris Freeman’s victories in the sprint and classic distance events to some rough races for Liz Stephen and Morgan Arritola (who I believe I read somewhere was sick earlier in the week).  The Canadians also had some promising results in Sweden.  It’s easy for people to get carried away, both positively and negatively, after just a few early season races.  In particular, it can be difficult to assess what exactly these performances mean when we have to wait a few hours (or days) for FIS point calculations and even then we have to accept that the penalty calculation is accurately adjusting for the strength of the field.

First, let’s say straight away that Kikkan’s sprint victory was unambiguously a stellar result.  It’s hard to ignore a race like that over skiers like Justyna Kowalczyk and Petra Majdic (among others) even allowing for the possibility that some of them may not have had their best days.  Personally, I’m unsurprised that Randall is capable of a sprint performance that strong; I’m more interested in whether she can perform at that level more than a handful of times a season, which would represent the next obvious jump for her.

In this post, though, I’m going to focus on just the distance races for a few North Americans who did particularly well.

What I end up seeing when people try to make sense of early season distance results are lots of pairwise comparisons:

  • She was 30 seconds behind the winner
  • He beat Really Famous Skier by 15 seconds
  • She was only 8 seconds out of Nth place
  • He was only 13 seconds behind Really Famous Skier

This is a reasonable way to think about race results, but we’re assuming that the people we’re comparing ourselves to had “normal” races.  This clearly isn’t always the case and often we don’t even really have a great sense of what’s “normal” for each skier.  Can we do better? Read more