Career Retrospective: Marianna Longa

More bad news for Italy. First Arianna Follis, now Marianna Longa is calling it quits as well. Her career has followed an interesting path, as you can tell from just glancing at her distance results:

Prior to 2005, Longa was a solid WC skier, but her best result was a 7th along with a handful of other top-20’s, mostly in classic races. She took a break during the 2005-2006 season coinciding with her pregnancy (and missing the Olympics in her home country!), and then returned in the 2006-2007 considerably faster, leading to four top tens, including one at World Championships.

Then she “retired” in the spring of 2007, only to return again late in the 2007-2008 season, once again even faster than before. Indeed, the subsequent season, 2008-2009 was hands down her best. Five of her nine podium finishes (all distance, including TdS) came in this season, and most of the rest came during this past season’s Tour de Ski.

The curiosities continue when you look at her distance results by technique: Read more

Arrivederci!

First Arianna Follis retires, and now we learn that Marianna Longa is heading out the door (again!). This strikes me as quite a blow to the Italian women’s team. Before I wrote this post, if you asked me to list some other top Italian women besides Follis and Longa off the top of my head, I’d probably have been able to name Magda Genuin, Antonella Confortella and maybe one or two others if I’d really thought about it.

Going back through some data, it does seem like the Italian women are really going to be struggling next year, particularly in putting together a relay team. I’ve put together some graphs of the remaining contenders, though I’m by no means an expert in up-and-coming Italian women, so I apologize if I’ve omitted someone important.

First we have some “older” ladies:

Genuin is a talented sprinter, with several WC level podiums and numerous top tens. She’s not a spectacular distance skier, though, as her best results just break the 50 FIS point level. Confortola is a stronger distance skier, but she’s only cracked the top ten four times in a WC level race, and 36 is fairly old for WC skiers. Also, her results have been trending in the wrong direction lately.

Then we have some folks in their mid to late twenties: Read more

Nation Trends: ITA, FIN, GER

Now for the sprinting versions of the graphs from my previous post. First up the men:

These graphs stretch back into the prehistory of sprinting, so keep that min mind. The Italian men kind of came out of the barn dominating sprinting (or whatever you want to call the “sprinting” events that existed back in the early 00’s) but haven’t kept that up at all. They’ve seen some flickers of life recently, though.

The graphs for the Finnish and German men are less interesting, with the only major change being Germany’s modest decline around 2003-2004.

Now for the women:

I’m not sure what the spike in 2003-2004 was for the Italian women. I’ll have to go back and check, but most likely it’s just one woman who had an unusually good year that year. The German women have seen a slow, general decline. The Finnish ladies have this big surge in the early 00’s and then crash in 2005-2006, rebound and then slowly declining again (although the top 30’s have remained mostly constant).

Performance Trends: ITA, FIN, GER

I made a graph a while back for a post dealing with the concern in Norway about their men’s distance squad, and in a follow-up post I provided a version of the same graph for the Swedish and Russian men’s distance teams as well. I’ve decided that I kind of like this graph; it’s a handy way to look at big-picture trends for an entire nation over long periods of time.

Naturally, then, we should look at some other countries. Let’s start with men’s distance events:

Results per race for men's distance events.

This is simply charting the number of results at various levels (top 30, top 10, etc.) per race, per season for each nation.

Nothing terribly surprising falls out here, but it’s a nice way to visualize things. The Finnish men pretty much imploded beginning in 2000-2001 and have only recently started coming back to life. The German men have had a phenomenal decade, at one point averaging nearly one German man on the podium in every single race, but with their big stars aging and retiring things have been steadily falling.

The Italians performance looks more steady than I expected it to. There’s a general, slight decline in the number of top 30 and top 10 results over time. What stands out most, though, is the massive post-Torino Olympics crash in 2006-2007.

As for the women’s distance skiers: Read more

Technique Preferences: Italy

My post on the differing performance of Japanese skiers by technique (classic vs. freestyle) got a lot of positive responses and a few requests that I use the same methods on some other countries.  First up is Italy.

I’ve tweaked and refined my model a fair bit, hopefully for the better.  The basic idea is the same: using a hierarchical linear model to estimate differences in performance in skating and classic races (I’m omitting pursuits of all varieties).  There are some technical things I’ve changed to be able to accomodate changes over time.  Mostly this means making some adjustments for the occasional small sample sizes you find from season to season.  This allows me to provide an estimate even in seasons where a skier did races of only one technique, although naturally those estimates come with a bit of a grain of salt.

In the results by athlete for their entire career, I’m only going to display information on only those athletes that did a minimum number of races of each technique (2) for space and clarity reasons.

The final big change is in the distance category.  There are some technical reasons why FIS points are somewhat of a nuisance to use as a response variable in models like these, so I’m using something else: percent back from the median skier.  I’ll save a more detailed description for why I’m doing this and how this measure is useful for another post.  Here all we need to know is that 0% back represents the median (or middle) WC skier.  Negative values mean you’re faster and positive values mean you’re slower.

Going into this, our intuitive notion is that the Italians have been generally better at skating.  And that does turn out to be the case.  But some other fascinating stuff pops up as well. Read more

Post-WJC/U23 Development: Italy

Yet another in a continuing series.  This time, Italy.  First up is the original form of the graph where each panel contains athletes grouped by their best performance at WJCs or U23s (1-5, 6-10, etc.):

Read more