Greatest Race Ever?

So the title probably gives this away, but bear with me. Consider a skier with the following distance results profile in major competitions:

olsson1

So by the end of the 2011-2012 season this guy has just turned 31. As you can see, he’s had quite a solid career. Things were good but fairly steady from 2004 to 2008. Then there’s an obvious peak in 2008-2009. Things tailed off slightly the following year, and then more significantly the year after that. Even so he never really dropped below his “baseline” level of performance from that 2004-2008 period. What does he follow this up with?

olsson

 

2011-2012 is by far his best season yet, essentially at age 32. Now, I’m by now means saying that once you turn 30 you’re doomed. But it is actually just more rare for people to improve dramatically at later ages. Not impossible. But certainly unusual.

And then, of course, he treats us to a stupendous performance in the 50k at World Champs.

Don’t quit, Johan Olsson! I want to keep watching you race for another few seasons.

Odds + Ends From Kuusamo

Annsi Pentsinen

Doogiski over at NordicXplained asked how Pentsinen’s 4.3 second win in qualification on Friday stacks up historically. Quite impressively, it turns out.

That’s the second largest qualifying round winning margin for the men’s field in WC, OWG or WSC races. The only larger one was almost 10 years ago, with a 4.7 second victory by Björn Lind in a freestyle sprint in Germany in December of 2001. So we’re reaching back to the very beginning years of sprinting here.

Ola Vigen Hattestad came close to this once last season, winning qualification by 3.86 seconds.

A winning margin greater than 4 seconds in qualifying has happened more often with the women: six times. And it’s basically a who’s who of dominant female skiers over the past decade: Skari, Neumannova, Bjørgen (twice), Kowalczyk and Majdic. Skari’s is particularly absurd. She won qualifying in a WC sprint in Italy way back in the day (December 2001 again) by 8.4 seconds! It was classic, so maybe waxing was an issue, or maybe Skari was just that fast. Interestingly, the woman she beat that day be 8.4 seconds was Petra Majdic.

More generally, the typical winning margin in qualification is just under a second for the men and about 1.5 seconds for the women. Read more

Sjusjøen Recap

Finally, the World Cup season is under way. The individual 10/15km freestyle races this past weekend had some predictable performances (the Norwegian women) and some not so predictable performances (Swedish men).

Men

Let’s focus on just three of the men with notable performances on Saturday:

Definitely strong races for each of these guys, but there are some differences. Note that in Johan Olsson’s case, the past three seasons have seen him more or less plateau, and maybe even fall off a bit. He hasn’t laid down an effort quite like that in some time. Given his age and the trend over the past few seasons, I’d guess that we aren’t going to see Olsson pull this rabbit out of his hat each weekend, but you never know.

Calle Halfvarsson, on the other hand, is quite young, only around 22 I believe. For some reason I had it in my head that he was more of a sprinter, but looking back at his results I see now that he’s not quite that lopsided. He has racked up a 1st and 5th place in the WJC sprints, and several top 30 appearances in WC sprints, once as high as 9th. His distance results haven’t looked quite as impressive, but they certainly haven’t been poor. One interesting point to make is that after some strong WJC results, Halfvarsson had some strong results in WC races last season, including the sprints I mentioned. But he didn’t fare well at U23’s last year, finishing 23rd, 25th and 27th. This is a good reminder that you can’t put too much emphasis on a single set of championship level races in evaluating skiers.

All that said, this Saturday’s race was clearly out of the ordinary for him. I’d guess this performance is a good sign for him, but I wouldn’t expect him to do this every weekend this year. Even if this is his best result of the season, and the rest of his races fall between this performance and his median from last year, that would represent an enormous jump.

There was plenty of excitement about Alex Harvey’s 5th place, particularly on this side of the Atlantic. In contrast with Olsson and Halfvarsson, though, this result doesn’t look nearly as extreme for Harvey. If anything, I’d call this a strong race, but not at the outer limits of what he’s shown before. That’s why I’m taking Alex Harvey very seriously this season. Read more