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Career Retrospective: Sabina Valbusa

Continuing with our look at retiring skiers…

Italian veteran Sabina Valbusa is hanging up the skis.  Skiing runs in her family: she is the younger sister of Fulvio Valbusa.  Not only that, she’s been racing for quite some time now:  I have results for her dating from 1993 up to 2010.

The five time Olympian has four Olympic medals, all in relays (3 bronze, 1 silver).  In addition, Valbusa found herself on the podium ten times in various World Cup races, 3 times in sprints and 7 in distance events.  She had one victory in a 15km freestyle race in 2004 in Italy.

Let’s have a look at her distance results:

Sabina Valbusa's distance results.

That’s about as classic a development pattern as you can get.  Steady improvement, peak for a few years and then tail off a bit, but still in the mix every now and then.  Her best season overall might have been 2002-2003, but her best World Cup results, including the win I mentioned above, came a year later.

Two races that stand out a bit are her two unusually good WC races early in her career, two 15km freestyles each in December 1996 and 1997.  Both of these races, interestingly, were in Italy.  This might make us wonder if maybe Valbusa tended to race faster on home soil.  Well, to make a long story short, no.  Some of her best races were indeed in Italy, but taken as a whole, she didn’t do any better in Italy than other race locations.

Did she have a technique preference?  Let’s see…

Sabina Valbusa's distance results by technique.

Recall that the FC category refers to pursuit races that involve skiers using both techniques during the course of one race.  I’d say Valbusa preferred skating, pretty strongly.  None of her top results (including the podium finishes I mentioned above) came in classic races.  Interestingly, it actually appears that the difference grew somewhat as her career progressed.  Notice that between 1997 and 1999 she had classic results that were at least close to her skating results, and sometimes nearly even.  But as we move past 1999, her classic skiing seemed to plateau somewhat.  I wonder if that might have reflected a conscious decision to focus on skating…

How about races of different lengths?

Sabina Valbusa's distance results by race length.

No patterns at all, at least to my eye.  On to her sprint career:

Sabina Valbusa's sprint races.

She didn’t appear to focus nearly as much on sprinting.  There were three seasons (2001, 2002, 2003) where she had some excellent results, but after that she almost never cracked the top twenty.  One thing that struck me about this graph is how her sprinting seemed to be jump between the 2000 and 2001 seasons and then between the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

Having looked at a ton of plots like these for various skiers, I’ve come to expect more gradual changes, at least with distance racing.  I wonder if this may be partly an aspect of sprinting.  Namely that sprint performance may be more responsive to year-to-year training that distance racing.  That seems intuitively right to me based on my limited understanding of physiology, but then again, I could totally be wrong, and this could just be some random fluke.

In any case, let’s finish up by looking at whether Valbusa’s preference for skating carried over into the sprint races that she did do:

Sabina Valbusa's sprint races by technique. y-axis label should be Rank not FIS Points.

That would seem to be the case.  Indeed, she went for several seasons there without even doing any classic sprints.

Farewell, Sabina!


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