Optimal Norwegian Women’s Relay Team

Now that I have some nifty code for analyzing the optimal relay team given a set of skiers to choose from, I thought I’d have some fun by looking at the Norwegian women.

Now, clearly on some level it almost doesn’t matter which folks you put on this team in addition to Bjorgen and Johaug. But I thought it would be an interesting exercise to learn a little about what my methodology is actually measuring.

Recall that what I’m doing is evaluating each skier against only the other potential relay team members. The idea being to identify who is the most “valuable” given the set of possible replacements. So each matchup between a pair of skiers is recorded, and weighted based on how recent it was. Then each combination (and order) of four skiers is evaluated comparing each leg to the potential replacements who aren’t on the team. I have no way to numerically evaluate who might be particularly suited to scrambling or anchoring, so that simply isn’t accounted for. But differences in technique are included.

My starting pool of skiers for the Norwegian women was essentially their first two teams in Lillehammer, plus Kristoffersen. This results in a bit more than 3000 relay teams, about a quarter of which are actually distinguishable by my methodology.

When I say that the composition of the Norwegian women’s team doesn’t matter much, this is what I mean:



The drop off in scores for the Norwegian women just isn’t very steep at all. The Norwegian women are a deep, deep team.

What’s more interesting to me is that my analysis strongly implies that the Norwegian team would actually be quite a bit stronger if Bjorgen skied a classic leg. The logic here is that the difference between Bjorgen and her teammates in classic is considerably larger than in freestyle, so they’d have more to gain by having Bjorgen crush everyone in one of the classic legs. The three best teams all put Bjorgen on a classic leg. The 4th/5th best shift her to skating, but then the 6th has her on a classic leg again.

The top team according to this analysis would put Bjorgen and Weng on classic legs and Johaug and Jacobsen on the freestyle legs. The 2nd best team simply swaps Steira for Jacobsen.

It’s more ambivalent about where to put Johaug. In the ten best teams, she is placed on a classic leg 4 times and a freestyle leg 6 times. For comparison, Bjorgen is placed on a classic leg 7 times and a freestyle leg only 3 times.

Øystein Pettersen’s Sprinting

Since the interviews on the FIS websites is one of my main sources of post topics during the off season, we’ll continue in that vein with one from a while back with Øystein Pettersen. In it, he talks about how his focus this season is (unsurprisingly) the classic sprint at World Championships.

Pettersen has been slightly better at classic sprints, on average, but overall he’s been pretty balanced:

I guess I’d say that at least until the last two seasons, his classic sprinting has been slightly better, if only because it had been somewhat more consistent. In general, his consistency took a slight hit recently, with slightly more results falling outside the top 30.

This sort of track record would make him a shoe-in for the World Championship team in many other nations, but in Norway things are competitive enough that Pettersen notes in the the interview that he’ll have to qualify. So he’ll be doing as many classic sprints as he can leading up to WSCs in order to prove himself.

How competitive is that effort going to be? Well, let’s compare Pettersen directly to a handful of other top Norwegian male sprinters from last season: Read more

Inge Braten

In some very sad news, we learned recently that Inge Braten passed away rather suddenly. It is difficult (and probably slightly foolish) to try to quantify a coach’s impact on skiing results, so let’s consider this post a rememberance, rather than an analysis.

Perhaps most famously, Braten coached the Norwegian men during their “Golden Era”:

(My records only go back to the 1991-1992 season.) Norway has certainly continued to enjoy success since then, but I will always remember that period as one of extraordinary depth, as indicated by the number of top thirty results per race.

His next two major coaching stints were much shorter, first with the Swedish men: Read more

Race Snapshot: Oslo Women’s 30k Classic

Andrew Musgrave at Norwegian Nationals

First of all, I’ll echo Nat Herz’s big ups to Andrew Musgrave for finishing second at Norwegian Nationals the other day. I’ve always been a bit fascinated by Musgrave, probably because North Americans identify with any reasonably successful, promising skier not from Scandinavia or the usual European nations as fellow “outsiders”. So I’m always kind of pumped when he skis well.

But looking closely at this result, I started getting a little puzzled. The first thing that puzzled me was that I didn’t think that his WC results so far this season had been all that great. So I checked, and…

…generally my impression was correct. His results have been a bit worse than last season. But for a guy putting up resulting on the WC this far behind the median skier, second place at Norwegian Nationals seems out of place. So let’s look more closely at this result.

The first thing to note is that Martin Johnsrud Sundby won the race handily, beating Musgrave by 67 seconds or so over 15k. A quick glance at Johnsrud Sundby’s WC distance results this season reveals that they have (with one exception) also been significantly better than Musgrave’s. So maybe the field at Norwegian Nationals was somewhat weaker than usual? (Case in point, Alsgaard in 3rd.) Well, scanning down the results sheet reveals several other Norwegian WC regulars, so maybe not.

Let’s do this more systematically by comparing Musgrave’s performance in this race to his performance against the skiers in this field in the past: Read more

European Mid-Season Review

This will just be a short note with similar graphs as last time, only for a few of the major European nations.

Men’s Distance

Sweden continues to generally improve. Note that in terms of top thirty performances, Norway has steadily declined over the years, but not among the top ten or better level. So they’ve become somewhat less deep of a team, but they still manage to crank out top results. Indeed, if anything they’ve been improving. After a couple stronger seasons, the Russian men aren’t off to a great start so far this season. Read more

Who’s Producing Fast Young Male Skiers?

A quick follow up to my previous post on the same topic for women. Swap Germany for Russia, and otherwise the answer is largely unchanged:

Once again, this is the number of skiers born since 1988 who’s best FIS points results last season averaged better than 50 FIS points. I used a more strict cutoff with the men, since their FIS points tend to run lower than the women. As before, sprinting is a bit less lopsided. I was really surprised by the large number of young German men, many of whom I’m unfamiliar with.

Of course, FIS points are an admittedly crude measure, so perhaps this is overestimating things.

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