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Most Improved: Men’s Distance

A lot of the stuff I’ve done so far on this site looks at data over fairly long periods of time.  Let’s switch things up and look only at the previous two World Cup seasons.  Awards for most improved skiers have a special place in my heart due to my own skiing career, which had some major swings in it as well.  In this post I’m going to take a moment and point out some skiers who had dramatically better seasons in ’09-’10 than in ’08-’09.

First we’ll look just at men’s distance skiing.  There are tons of different ways you could define “most improved” depending on what interests you.  I’d like to focus on skiers who’ve done a minimum number of major (WC, WSC or OWG) distance races in each of the past two season (five, in this case).  I’m going to look at the change in the average of a skier’s best five distance races (measured by FIS points) from the ’08-’09 season to the ’09-’10.

I realize that this will consider an improvement from 80 to 60 FIS points as equivalent to an improvement from 30 FIS points to 10 FIS points, and that many people may shriek in horror at this.  In the future, I’ll consider adjusting for the increasing difficulty in improvement as you get faster.  At the moment, though, I’d like to give some props to skiers who may be fairly slow but have improved a lot.

Also, there might be some athletes who had a particularly bad ’08-’09 season due to injury or illness.  I consider that part of the life of a ski racer, so I’m not going to filter out improvement due to these types of factors.

Here’s a table of the 10 most improved men in distance events, in terms of the drop in the average of their best five races by FIS points:

[table id=6]

Congrats to Ben Sim!  Nicely done!  I’m not sure it’s humanly possible to drop another 40 points next season, but here’s to trying.  It’s not terribly surprising to see French up-and-comer Maurice Manificat on this list.  Nikolay Pankratov and Daniel Rickardsson aren’t exactly spring chickens (both ~28 I believe), nor were they particularly slow to start with, but they both made some big jumps.

I’m less familiar with Austrian skier Manuel Hirner, though you should for sure click through and check out his website.  Particularly the first click-through image.  Wow.  Google is telling me that the text under it translates as “dark graphics in the galleries”.  Yeah.  Thanks for the head’s up, Manuel!

Actually, there’s some nice video on his site of the Austrian team skiing somewhere I’ve actually been: the Dachstein Glacier.

Finally, here’s a graph showing the distance results for all ten most improved skiers.  As you can ski, improvements come in all shapes and sizes…(click through for a larger version)

Notice that the trend lines don’t always pick up on single year-to-year changes; also, the trend lines are fit to the entire data set, not just the athlete’s best five races, so we can’t expect them to reflect the improvement we measured above.  For instance, Pankratov had a somewhat odd season in 2008-2009, which accounts for much if his improvement, and Novikov had been seeing his best results decline for several seasons and then he had a much improved 2009-2010 season.

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