Is Kikkan the Gold Medal Favorite?

One topic that’s going to come up over and over again over the next 10 months or so is to what degree Kikkan Randall may be the gold medal “favorite” for the freestyle sprint in Sochi.

If you look over the past several seasons, the first thing you have to note is that two of the more dominant freestyle sprinters are now retired: Arianna Follis and Petra Majdic. Vesna Fabjan is a decent sprinter, but she’s never beaten Kikkan in the twelve times they’ve met in freestyle sprints over the past two seasons. Similarly, Hanna Falk is 0-7, Celine Brun-Lie is 0-6 and Natalia Matveeva is 0-9. Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg? She’s 1-9.

The most obvious threats, in terms of how they’ve performed against Kikkan directly, would appear to be Ida Ingemarsdotter, Maiken Caspersen Falla and of course Marit Bjoergen. Ingemarsdotter and Falla are both 3-6 against Kikkan over the past two seasons, while Bjoergen is 1-3. And in Bjoergen’s case, we need to be careful to consider that they only faced each other once last season, and sprints did not seem to be a major focus for Marit.

kikkan_sochi_odds

 

All three, Bjoergen, Falla and Ingemarsdotter did many fewer freestyle sprints last season than the year before, and I have no idea to what degree they will all consider the Olympic sprint a “focus” race next season. But there are 5 freestyle sprints (if you count the one during the TdS) prior to Sochi next year. Those five races will probably be the most informative on the question of picking a favorite for Sochi. But at the moment, I still consider the gold medal basically a toss-up between Kikkand and Marit.

(Allowing, of course, for the fact that sprinting is insane, and crashes can happen at any time to anyone. You never know…)

Oslo Seeds & Kikkan/Marit Update

First some quick seeds calculated for Oslo’s freestyle mass start races:

MenWomen
NORTHUG PetterBJOERGEN Marit
OLSSON JohanKOWALCZYK Justyna
GJERDALEN Tord AsleJOHAUG Therese
BAUER LukasSTEIRA Kristin Stoermer
VYLEGZHANIN MaximSKOFTERUD Vibeke W
COLOGNA DarioKALLA Charlotte
RICKARDSSON DanielHAAG Anna
ANGERER TobiasFESSEL Nicole
SOEDERGREN AndersZELLER Katrin
ROETHE SjurROPONEN Riitta-Liisa
REICHELT TomSHEVCHENKO Valentina
CHERNOUSOV IliaLAHTEENMAKI Krista
BABIKOV IvanRANDALL Kikkan
DI CENTA GiorgioSTEPHEN Elizabeth
HARVEY AlexTCHEKALEVA Yulia
HELLNER MarcusSAARINEN Aino-Kaisa
ELIASSEN PetterNOVIKOVA Valentina
DOLIDOVICH SergeiDOTSENKO Anastasia
MORIGGL ThomasSARASOJA-LILJA Riikka
JOHNSRUD SUNDBY MartinJOHANSSON NORGREN Britta
NOUSIAINEN VilleJEZERSEK Barbara
CLARA RolandBROOKS Holly
GLAVATSKIKH KonstantinNYVLTOVA Eva
TSCHARNKE TimLINDBORG Sara
DUVILLARD RobinKOLOMINA Elena
SIMILAE TeroHERMANN Denise
BAJCICAK MartinORGUE Laura
YOSHIDA KeishinKOBAYASHI Yuki
REHEMAA AivarMACIUSZEK Paulina
FISCHER RemoANTSYBOR Maryna

Finally, a commenter on my last post asked about how often Kikkan and Marit had actually met in a sprint final. The answer is that it has happened (in major events) nine times, and Kikkan has won 3 of them, include the most recent race in Finland. The other two were World Cups, both freestyle, in 2011 and 2008. The other six times Marit has won.

Kikkan vs Marit In Sprints

Since Kikkan Randall locked up the Sprint World Cup title this weekend with a (narrow) win over Marit Bjoergen, I thought it might be instructive to review their head-to-head history in sprinting:

kikkan_marit

 

The dashed line is the trend for freestyle races and the solid is classic. Dots in the red are victories for Kikkan and vice versa. With them meeting in only one freestyle sprint thus far this season, there isn’t enough data to continue that trend line beyond last season (numerically, at least).

This doesn’t take anything away from Kikkan’s accomplishments, but think this makes it pretty clear that it would be interesting to go through a season where Marit actually really wanted to win the Sprint World Cup overall title, and put every sprint on her schedule.

Randall’s Training Deficit

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:

randall_brooks

 

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.

 

Some More North American Sprinting Trends

A commenter on my last post correctly pointed out that it might be interesting to look at performance using a percent back based measure on the qualifying times, since the number of racers present can greatly effect finishing place.

I didn’t quite have time to pull together the standardization piece that I typically use with distance races (I will definitely do that soon, though…) so this will simply use the percent behind the 30th qualifier. I’m fairly confident that the general picture won’t change much once you standardize those values, but I’ll check once I get that piece organized.

Anyhow, here you go:

So these are the same data, US and Canadian sprinters in WCs held in North America only. For comparison, the graph from last time using finishing place: Read more

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

How Did Kikkan Randall’s 2012 Sprint Season Compare?

Kikkan Randall, the reigning women’s World Cup sprint champion, obviously had a pretty darn good season last year. How does it stack up against some of the best sprint seasons put together since 2005-2006?

The first thing that stood out to me is that if you rank the best women’s sprint seasons, Randall participated in more races that is typical. If you rank the seasons by the proportion times the athlete wins, reaches the podium, reaches the finals, etc. It turns out that of the 50 best women’s seasons, the average number of sprint races done is about 9. Kikkan raced in 13 World Cup sprints last season. If you can hack it that’s a good strategy, of course, since the World Cup title is based on total points accumulated.

But it also explains why by some measures, Randall’s 2012 season wasn’t as good as her 2011 season. (Which is kind of crazy, I know, but bear with me…)

She won a slightly smaller proportion of the sprint races she entered (0.154 vs 0.2) and she reached the podium in a slightly smaller proportion as well (0.385 vs. 0.4). So doing more races hurt her in this particular measure by “increasing the denominator”, but on the other hand, she reached the semifinals in all 13 races she entered, which helps to rack of the points.

In fact, only three other women with at least 8 sprint races in a season have managed to reach the semifinals each time: Virpi Kuitunen (2006-2007), Patre Majdic (2008-2009) and of course Marit Bjoergen (2009-2010, 2010-2011). Interestingly, Randall’s season was noticeably less dominant than the ones I just listed; they typically involved double or even triple the proportion of wins or podiums. That sort of reinforces to me that the key element in Randall’s ability to win the World Cup sprint title was her ability to do more races and do well enough in each one.

Interestingly, this pattern holds even when you look only at the freestyle races. Once again, her 2010-2011 campaign was very slightly better, when you measure the number of results as a proportion of freestyle sprints done. She did 7 freestyle sprints last year, and 6 the year before, so the difference in proportions here is really only the result of one race. For my money, the best single season freestyle sprinting campaign for women would be a toss-up between Petra Majdic and Arianna Follis, both in 2008-2009 ironically. They both did 8 freestyle sprints and the two of them won nearly all of them. Both were always in the semis, Follis reached the finals in all 8 while Majdic had more overall wins.

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