A quick look at our lovely neighbors to the north!
I’m going to focus on the folks on the World Cup squad, starting with the men:
These are the WC level distance results (excluding Len Valjas). I confess I’m a little worried about Ivan Babikov, who had a rough season last year. His trend over the past four seasons appears to be headed in the wrong direction (albeit very slightly); we’ll see if he can rebound for some strong freestyle results this year.
Alex Harvey had an interesting season last year, and he’s still quite young. Given his age and how competitive he seemed in distance races last year at times, he’s the North American skier I’m most excited about at the moment. (Yes, even more than Kikkan Randall.)
Devon Kershaw also had a strong season last year, particularly in the Tour de Ski. One thing I wonder about is how well he’s been able to figure out travelling back and forth to Europe. My only reason for saying that is the odd ‘clustering’ effect you can see in the last three seasons of his distance results. They each show two distinct groups of results, one very strong cluster and one more mediocre cluster. For instance, last year he seemed to fade into March. What I’m keeping my eye on with him is consistency, then. Can he sustain those top level results through an entire season?
The women are more focused on sprinting: Read more
Another season is just around the corner! While the USST saw some changes over the off season, the folks we are most likely to see top results from are still the Big Three: Kikkan Randall, Andy Newell and Kris Freeman.
My expectations and questions for Freeman are summed up in this graph:
This shows his median (and 10th/90th percentile – errorbars) WC results by month, using standardized percent behind the median skier. Freeman has tended to see a big dropoff in January and has had inconsistent results mid-season. The differences between the months may not seem huge, since the y axis units are not something you’re used to thinking in. But keep in mind that a difference of 0.5 can easily mean the difference between 10th and 30th (or more).
So I won’t be surprised if Freeman comes out of the gate skiing fast in November, but I’ll be very curious what happens when we hit January.
As for Kikkan Randall, I think there’s probably a lot of excitement surrounding her, considering the breakthrough season she had last year. I’ve spoken before on this blog about her chances for contending for the WC sprint title, and I think she certainly will be a podium contender in every freestyle sprint she enters. But here’s a minor note of caution: Read more
I had hoped to have actual racing to write about by this week, but as we all know the snow situation in Europe hasn’t been cooperating. Hopefully we’ll finally get some racing done this weekend.
In the meantime, everyone keeps writing their little nation previews. FasterSkier’s piece on Slovenia mentioned an up and coming junior with the impressive sounding name of Rok Trsan. How are his FIS points compared to future WC top ten finishers at his age?
As for the Czech’s, as usual I’m more interested in the folks not named Lukas Bauer: Read more
I’m continuing to pick and choose which nations in Fasterskier’s countdown to write about. The US and Canada I’ll cover later in more detail, and I’m written about Japan a fair bit in the past.
A couple of comments in their write up about Kazahkstan stuck out to me. The first was the comment about Alexey Poltaranin being the next Vladimir Smirnov. (I realize their posts are written partly in fun, and not always entirely seriously.) This is hard for me to assess with data, since so much of Smirnov’s younger days took place prior to 1992. But here’s a rough comparison of their major international results by age, using standardized percent behind the median skier:
While that seems to suggest a smooth transition, keep the x axis scales in mind. There’s a 3 year gap there. Also, be careful about trends at the end points, since age can be split across two different seasons, as in Poltaranin’s case. One little exercise for you is this: carefully cover up Poltaranin’s one excellent race from last year (his best). How much is that one point influencing the visual impression of a steady improvement?
The other skier mentioned that caught my eye was Anastasia Slonova, who’s had some strong results as a junior. Although, I only have 29 FIS races on record for her including both sprint and distance events. She hasn’t had any stellar results yet in the handful of WC’s that she’s done, topping out at around 40th or so. But she is still quite young.
If you look at her cohort graph, that compares her FIS points to women who went on to record a top ten finish in a WC race, you see that she’s mostly on track in distance events:
The FasterSkier countdown continues (and is joined by NordicXplained). Per usual, I like reading about the nations I don’t always follow as closely, like the Ukranians. The distance results for the four skiers mentioned in the FasterSkier article are below:
Roman Leybyuk had a string of strong results between 2002 and 2006, but has been slowly regressing since then. Valentina Shevchenko has been their mainstay for well over a decade, with several WC wins and countless top ten finishes. She too has fallen off slightly the last two seasons, but probably shouldn’t be counted out. Lada Nesterenko I don’t know much about. She’s been very consistently mediocre since 2008. 2007 was an interesting year for her. Her only major international competitions were at World Championships where she racked up a 7th, 17th and 25th in distance events. She did only around 6 other FIS races that year and while she won two of those races, they were Baltic Cups. In the more competitive Scandinavian Cups she was 14th and 25th.
Just to round things out, the sprint results (WC, WSC, etc.) for these four: Read more
FasterSkier’s piece on Belarus over the weekend naturally got me thinking about their performances. As they note in that article, they’ve had some wild times, including the famous “lucky” silver medal by Leanid Karneyenka in 2007 thanks to an early start position and a freak snowstorm, and their mishap in the team sprint relay in Vancouver, and then Sergei Dolidovich’s near miss in the 50k this past season in Oslo.
Here’s what I see when I look at their men’s distance results: Read more
In the same vein as my previous post following up on Spain’s WC prospects, the FasterSkier series next looked at Lithuania. I’m sometimes curious why some of the former Soviet republics aren’t better represented in cross country skiing. I imagine many of them have struggled economically since the breakup of the USSR and national sports programs wouldn’t be a priority in that case. (I don’t know anything about Lithuania’s economy, for the record. Update: An actual Lithuanian has popped by in the comments to other their own insights.)
But whatever the reason, Lithuania is sort of a prototypical example of the former Soviet republic. For instance, by far the best Lithuanian skier that I can find in their history (post-Soviet era) is (was) Vida Venzene. And she was a rather talented Soviet skier who switched to her native Lithuania once they became independent. So a lot of these new nations inherited some great skiers (Vladimir Smirnov, anyone?) but suddenly cut off economically from Russia some of them haven’t been able rebuild their own program.
The only three Lithuanian skiers that I can find who have recorded top 30 results are Venzene, Ricardas Panavas and Irina Terentjeva. Terentjeva’s Wikipedia page is out of date, as she has had a few top 30 results since the 37th listed there as her best result.
But as with Laura Orgue in my last post, there’s reason for concern when looking at Teretjeva’s results:
Her median distance result (in blue) has been up and down over the years. But what stands out to me is the steady decline in her best result over the past five years or so. Her sprint results don’t reveal an encouraging trend either: Read more