Holly Brooks deserves a spot on the A team

No, not that A-Team. (Although she’d probably kick some butt.)

As discussed recently over at FasterSkier, Brooks just missed qualifying via objective criteria, as she finished 55th in the World Cup overall. That means that if she’s named, it will have to be based upon some discretionary judgement by the coaches. I think you can make a pretty good case that Brooks deserves a spot.

First let’s review her distance results, compared to a few of her peers:

This doesn’t make her look very good, although she still comes out looking pretty favorably compared to Sargent and even Stephen, to a certain degree. But as we all know, Brooks broke her wrist over Christmas, and then proceeded to race through the injury for several weeks. What does her season look like if we drop her post-injury results? Read more

USST 2011-2012 Preview

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

Younger USST Member Tracking

The USST has expanded somewhat, adding several younger skiers. Acknowledging that FIS points are only a small piece of performance assessment, it has interested me that at various times USST staff have mentioned comparing skiers’ FIS points to medalists, or some other group of top skiers. So here are two graphs showing the younger US B Team members compared to the range of FIS point results by future top ten WC finishers at that age. First the women:

The blue line is the athlete’s median FIS points by age and the shaded regions shows the range of FIS points earned by future top ten skiers, ranging from the best 10% to the worst 90%, the lightest shaded region. And similarly, the men: Read more

Should Jessie Diggins Be On The A-Team?

No, not that A-Team, although that’s an amusing idea. I saw some discussion in the comments over at FasterSkier about whether Jessie Diggins ought to have been named to the US A Team rather than the B Team.

Let’s be clear up front that this isn’t the sort of question you can answer by just looking at FIS points. But some data may provide some useful perspective. Let’s start by looking at a collection of women near Diggins’ age (born between 1990-1992). The following two tables summarize the data for sprint and distance events from this past season:

Top Young Female Distance Skiers
Name Median Best Three
WENG Heidi 43.63 34.82
LAHTEENMAKI Krista 49.13 12.45
HAGA Ragnhild 63.25 42.53
SLIND Kari Oeyre 70.96 43.67
HAGEN Martine Ek 72.50 43.67
DIGGINS Jessica 72.77 45.57
RINGWALD Sandra 73.05 55.95
JACOB Helene 74.66 48.17
SOBOLEVA Elena 76.42 57.60
OESTBERG Ingvild Flugstad 76.74 28.80

 

Top Young Female Sprinter
Name Median Best Three
LAHTEENMAKI Krista 39.62 29.25
FALLA Maiken Caspersen 43.14 11.10
KOLB Hanna 46.72 33.14
OESTBERG Ingvild Flugstad 53.93 40.09
BRODIN Hanna 58.63 44.68
SLIND Kari Oeyre 64.39 48.57
ANGER Lucia 68.80 56.13
OJASTE Triin 70.21 49.57
RINGWALD Sandra 83.68 70.69
GRUNDVALL Maria 85.24 76.96
WENG Heidi 86.50 66.21
GODOVANICHENKO Daria 87.23 61.18
DIGGINS Jessica 87.86 80.22

I’ve shown the median FIS points result for last season, along with the average of each skier’s best three results. As usual, all sorts of caveats apply regarding the crudeness of FIS points as a measure of performance. Still, this is an accomplished group of skiers to be lumped together with. I think it’s fair to say that Weng and Lahteenmaki stand out in distance skiing. Indeed, Lahteenmaki is sort of an unusual case as she’s already demonstrated an ability to perform at the WC level over the course of an entire season. There’s no question where she’ll be racing next season. And of course Falla (and a few other of these sprinters) will be WC regulars next season as well.

Then you have this large group of other talented young Norwegian women coming up (Weng, Haga, Slind, Hagen, Oestberg). It’s not exactly like they’re hurting for talent at the moment, so I guess it’s a good thing they get so many start allotments, since they have the talent to back it up on the women’s side.

Whether or not it’s a good idea to send Diggins to Europe for a full season may or may not have anything to do with how other nations deal with their own talented young women. But I think it’s pretty hard to argue that Diggins is at quite the same level as folks like Weng, Slind, Kolb, Falla, let alone someone like Lahteenmaki.

US World Champs Team Selection

Honestly, I’m reluctant to wade into this topic, but since this blog is supposed to focus on the intersection of XC skiing and data, I feel like I need to say something. The USST announced their team for World Championships in Oslo, which inevitably led to a certain amount of griping about the choices made or the tools used to make those choices.

I spend a lot of time looking at XC skiing results data in far more detail than most people and I can’t see anything remotely questionable in the selections. What I mean by that is that if you compare the team they selected with a detailed look at all the available race results so far this season, nothing seems obviously wrong to me given the particular set of races on the schedule in Oslo.

Clearly, some judgement calls were made, but that’s inevitable. No ranking system is perfect. No matter how complex or sophisticated your points system and ranking method is, there will be instances where it fails to capture the “truth”. Data should be a guide, not an ironclad law.

As some food for thought, here are some slightly improved versions of the graphs I posted this morning, but with versions for sprinting as well. Once again, there are surely some “contenders” that I haven’t plotted; this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive look at everyone vying for a spot on the WSC team. The modification I made is to plot line segments rather than points. I recommend reading them by row: red lines are “good” for the athlete in the row, blue lines are “bad”. Only instances where each pair of athletes raced against each other are counted. The length of the line segment represents the difference in percent back for distance races and the difference in rank for sprint races. Some general observations follow: Read more

US Biathlon Preview: Women

Now let’s turn to the US women biathletes.  The women haven’t managed to produce any results comparable to Tim Burke’s recent success, but there are a ton of young skiers it seems trying to change that.  I’ve noticed a lot of collegiate cross country skiers switching over (or maybe back) to biathlon after graduated, and this is particularly the case with the US women, where I’m beginning to wonder if the USBA hasn’t entered into some secret arrangement with Dartmouth College to develop athletes for them.

Let’s start with the women who raced in World Cups or Olympic races last year:

Read more

US Biathlon Preview: Men

My previews for the US biathlon teams will be briefer, which reflects the fact that I know less about the US biathlon team, and biathlon in general.  Feel free to correct me in the comments if I get anything horribly wrong.  For example, I’m going to take a very simplistic approach to who’s actually on the US team by just looking at the skiers I have data on.  The team selections seem pretty fluid to me through and between seasons.

Let’s start with the men.  I’m going to begin with the men who did World Cup or Olympic races last season:

Read more

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