Most Improved: Women’s Distance

Now for the “most improved” women’s distance skiers on the World Cup circuit this season, compared to last season. As always, this is based on an amalgamation of measures, in order to include improvements in one’s average performance, as well as one’s best races.

Here are the top 12:

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As usual, due to some scaling, people improving from the middle/bottom of the pack are treated roughly the same as people improving from the top of the field. So while Therese Johaug’s average race didn’t improve much (how could it?) she did manage to have a handful of absolutely stellar performances that bumped up her best races compared to last season. After plateauing or even sliding back slightly last season, Liz Stephen made some pretty big strides this year. I’m looking for her to sustain that next season, not make another jump of the same size.

We also have some women who made some big jumps from the back or middle of the field, like Mariya Guschina and Ilaria Debertolis.

The trajectories for the Finns Anne Kylloenen and Kerttu Niskanen are certainly encouraging for the future…

Most Improved: Men’s Distance

Now that the World Cup season has wrapped up, it’s time for a series of graphs looking at who made big jumps, in either direction, this year. We’ll start with the most improved in the men’s distance events.

The criteria here is sort of a blend of different measures, with an adjustment for scale, so that faster skiers don’t get penalized for it being harder to improve from, say 15th to 5th.

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These are the 12 “most improved” men’s distance skiers (only median percent back is plotted, obviously, though the metric included several factors). I wasn’t expecting Daniel Rickardsson to show up here, for some reason, but I suppose he had an unusually bad season previously. It’s pretty easy to I think to be a bit down about how the Canadian men performed this winter, so it’s interesting to see Ivan Babikov do well by this metric. What’s helping him here is a modest improvement in his median result, and then a major improvement in his best 4-5 races.

Both Italian Dietmar Noeckler and Austrian Johannes Duerr weren’t terribly fast in an absolute sense, but they both made major jumps this year. They might be people to watch out for next year, if they keep that up.

Most Improved: Women’s Sprint

Moving right along to the most improved women’s sprinter (at least, according to the metric laid out in this post).

Here’s the collection:

As usual, you can click on it for a slightly larger version.

Once again, I think we’re seeing that North America had a pretty across the board incredible year in sprinting, with Chandra Crawford making continued progress. The list of North Americans who had strong sprint races on the World Cup this year is quite long.

Van Der Graff, Kylloenen and Oestberg all have patterns that look roughly similar: young-ish skiers on a fairly steep improvement curve.

Kowalczyk sneaks in here with an increase in podiums basically (along with the usual smattering of “off” races), but it’s hard to make out in the graph due to some over plotting of points. Despite a sudden lack of consistency from Ingemarsdotter, she qualified through to the semifinals considerably more often this season.

Gaia Vuerich, Anastasia Dotsenko and Alenka Cebasek are skiers I don’t know much about, but they all appear to be fairly young. Given the women’s field, young sprinters showing dramatic improvement from the 40’s-50’s down into the 20’s-30’s isn’t all that uncommon. We’ll see if they can stick around…

Most Improved: Men’s Sprint

Now we’ll finish up this series with the sprinters, starting with the most improved men. The methodology is simpler here, as we really only need to use finishing place as a metric (although we will still scale improvements so that, say, improving from 40th to 20th isn’t seen as a dramatically larger improvement than from 10th to 5th).

Here’s most improved men (click through for the full version):

Sweden’s Teodor Peterson tops the list here (which is interesting, given what we’ll see for the most un-improved men’s sprinters…) followed by the Norwegians Golberg and Brandsdal. Golberg is still quite new to the circuit, so rapid improvement isn’t terribly surprising for a guy getting more starts.

My general impression is that its pretty hard to sustain dominant sprinting performances for very many seasons in a row (too much luck is involved) so I wouldn’t be shocked to see Peterson have another successful season next year, but maybe not so relentlessly advancing to the semifinals.

I’m glad that Simi Hamilton gets his due here, while perhaps overshadowed by other successful North American sprinters this year, he really did finally put together a solid season. Similarly, Devon Kershaw pretty dramatically stepped up his sprinting performance, which is a major reason why he finished 2nd in the World Cup overall.

Morilov’s improvement doesn’t look terribly impressive, at least to the eye, but he’s getting credit here for some increased consistency.

Len Valjas basically doubled the number of times he qualified for the heats this season. And that’s nothing to shake a stick at!

Roddy Darragon, Fabio Pasini and Eligius Tambornino (awesome name!) I’ll group together as they both saw some improvement after a handful of sub-par seasons. Pasini showed some flashes of his 2009 self, but wasn’t terribly consistent. Darragon has two pretty bad seasons with not many races (injury or illness perhaps?) and improved, but not quite to where he was in 2009.

Most Improved: Women’s Distance

Moving on from last time to the most improved in women’s distance events…you can read that post for an explanation of the metrics I’m using, and the usual round of caveats.

Here’s the top twelve:

As before, you can click through for a slightly larger version.

By these measures, Sweden’s Sofia Bleckur comes out on top. She only did a handful of WC distance races this season, but they included a solid collection of top 30 results, which compared to her efforts last season was a dramatic improvement. Norway’s Heidi Weng, while clearly a future star, had many more starts and a much larger variance in her results. Her “middle of the road” results are all still a decent improvement from last year, and then she added to that a solid collection of outstanding races.

Finland’s Laura Ahervo looks fairly similar (by their graph at least) to Weng. Short history of WC racing with a sharp uptick in starts this year that included a sizable number of excellent results. Italy’s Elisa Brocard also had a very strong season, but she was definitely aided in this particular ranking by her decidedly sub-par results last year.

It shouldn’t be too surprising to see Kikkan Randall on this list, as her distance skiing generally took a big step this year. The big take-away I see from her graph is consistency; she just didn’t have any terrible distance races, which when you look over the other folks in this graph is pretty rare.

Both of the Canadian ladies, Daria Gaiazova and Chandra Crawford are clearly trending in the right direction, although in absolute terms they’re still much closer to be competitive in sprints, probably.

Both Anouk Faivre Picon and Julia Ivanova saw the bulk of their improvements come from an increase in the number of very strong results, rather than an overall improvement in their “average” race. Again, consistency can be a major issue.

Most Improved: Men’s Distance

Let’s start wrapping up the 2011-2012 World Cup season, shall we? First, we’ll look at skiers who made the largest jumps, either up or down, compared to last year, beginning with the men’s distance events.

As always, you get somewhat different lists of skiers as the “most improved” depending on what metric you use. My calculations actually combine 4 different measurements (finishing place, FIS points, percent behind median skier, and another more aggressively scaled version of the median percent back). But I can only really plot one at a time, so I’m only going to show you the graphs of percent behind the median skier for each athlete. Also, I’ve scaled all the metrics so that improvements at different levels are roughly comparable (i.e. improving from 10th to 5th versus from 40th to 20th). It’s a little more democratic that way.

My other reminder is that there are several ways in which a skier could “improve” in a numerical sense: their typical, or average result could improve, they could have more really good results, or they could have fewer really bad results. Not all of those are guaranteed to happen at the same time. Here we go:

You can click through for a slightly larger version of that graph. Note that each panel has its own y-axis, in order to better see the scale change for each skier.

Calle Halfvarsson stands out as someone I noticed having an unusually good distance season. Of course, Sergey Turyshev 4 results that were head and shoulders above anything he’s done previously, so he takes the crown this year. Kristian Rennemo is a more pedestrian skier, generally speaking, but in addition to one extraordinary race (5th in the Tour de Ski pursuit) his median result also jumped considerably.

Hannes Dotzler didn’t race all that much, but went rather dramatically faster when he did. Andy Kuehne and Dmitriy Japarov are similar cases in that neither has many seasons under their belt, and had wildly variable, though much improved on average, results. Japarov in particular was sort of all over the map.

Johannes Duerr (along with Bernhard Tritscher, who’s more of a sprinter) is handily Austria’s top male distance skier his age (~25). He looks to still have a ways to go if he’s going to be a serious competitor on the World Cup level, though.

Then you have four top guys: Olsson, Northug, Cologna and Poltaranin. After two somewhat subpar years, Olsson rebounded somewhat and probably could have had a spectacular year if he’d stayed healthy. Similarly, Northug was really the only person who could have given Cologna a run for the World Cup overall, but he focused on different events, and eventually lost a good portion of the season to illness as well. But recall that in November and December he was skiing rather well.

Finally, there’s Andrew Newell, possibly an interesting inclusion in this list. Obviously, he’s more of a sprint specialist, but he did quite a few distance events this season (in part due to the Tour de Ski). While he’s not exactly a superstar in distance events, he did manage to have more strong results this season than last. Although, the overall range in his results isn’t all that different.

Are My Lists Of Improved Skiers Correlated With Age?

A commenter asked if there was a connection between my lists of improved and un-improved skiers and age. Easy enough to check, so let’s go to the tape. Here are the distance skiers:

The y-axis (Improvement Index) has no units, so don’t try to interpret it. It’s just the mash-up of several ways of measuring changes in performance I used to rank the skiers. Lower values are bad (un-improvement) higher values are good (improvement). The relationship is statistically significant for both men and women, although as you can see from the scatterplot, the practical lessons we can draw from it are limited.

Older skiers are, on average, more likely to see a year-over-year decline, which isn’t terribly surprising. Using this measure, it’s difficult to interpret the magnitude of the decline, since my “Improvement Index” doesn’t have any sensible units. So it’s not really clear what a decline of 10 on this index means, practically speaking.

The picture for sprinting is quite different:

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