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Head-To-Head: Petter Northug vs. Marcus Hellner

Apparently this is our modern rivalry on the men’s side of things.  I suppose the Norwegians and Swedes will always find something to torment each other over, so this one is as good as any.  Obviously, this story has many chapters left to be written, but let’s take a look at how things have progressed so far…

First up is distance results:

This shows the difference in FIS points every time (that I have on record) of Northug (NOR) and Hellner (SWE) racing against each other in distance events.  Since lower FIS points are better, negative values mean Northug won and vice versa.

Hellner took first blood in 2003 in a simple FIS race and then was just barely edged out by Northug at World Juniors (26th vs 25th; apparently neither of them emerged from the womb winning World Cup races).  Northug definitely had the better of Hellner the next year at World Juniors (Northug won both races, Hellner was 15th and 28th).

From here things went back and forth a bit, but Northug recorded bigger (margin) wins than Hellner.  Over the last three seasons, though, Hellner seems to have evened things up quite a bit, particularly in skating.

In sprinting, the rivalry sort of falls apart:

This is plotting the difference in rank, not the difference in FIS points.  The trend line for all of three classic sprints is a grave statistical sin.  My apologies, I was simply too lazy to futz with my script to suppress it.

What about mass start races?  Northug has been “unbeatable” reportedly given his ability to out sprint his competitors in the final meters of a mass start race.  I won’t do anything complicated here, just check out some boxplots for each race type:

I’d say that’s a clear advantage for Northug in pure mass start races.  Pursuits seem more ambiguous for some reason, although remember that this is aggregating over time.

In any case, Northug would appear to, ahem, be winning these battles.  The trend line suggests some improvement by Hellner, but it’s a minor change.  Northug sure can sprint, but he’s definitely not unbeatable!


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