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Career Retrospective: Petra Majdic

What can you say about Petra Majdic? The Slovenian was delightfully hard to miss on the ski trails. Known as a classic sprint specialist, she was no slouch at distance events either:

From 2002 forward, that is some very consistent skiing, year in, year out. I realize that standardized percent behind the median skier may be a little hard for you to get a sense for, so here’s a different way of looking at it. Majdic’s median distance result from 2002 on was basically 11th. She slipped a bit in 2004 and 2005 (median of 17th in those seasons), but every other season her median was ~11th or better.

You might notice the sudden appearance of higher quality races beginning in 2006. My first thought was that this corresponded (roughly) with the start of the Tour de Ski, an event that Majdic has excelled at. Additionally, the unusual formats and smaller fields can sometimes produce unusually extreme differences compared to the median skier. But only 1/3 of those races below -1.5 after 2006 came from the Tour, so she probably stepped up her distance skiing generally. Note, though, that the presence of several much stronger results only slightly reduces her median results in any given season. I point this out only to remind once again about the difference between gauging performance based on someone’s best results versus their ‘average’ result.

That said, the Tour has been friendly to Majdic’s distance racing. Half of her distance podium results have come from Tour stages. And she surely is stronger in classic events:

Sprinting is where Majdic really excelled, though, and by my estimation she was simply the best sprinter, male or female, over the past 5-6 seasons. What’s my evidence? In that time period, she has won a larger proportion of her sprint races (33%) than Emil Jönsson or Marit Bjørgen, or indeed anyone else. She has podiumed at a greater rate (55%) than any other skier during this time. The next closest is Bjørgen at 48%.

How strong was her preference for classic in sprinting? Well, if you take her victory and podium rates over the past 5 season (33% and 55%) and break them down by technique you get 52%/18% for wins and 89%/27% for podiums. Over the course of 5 seasons or so, Majdic reached the podium in nearly 90% of the classic sprints she did!

The pinnacle of this steak was surely the 2008-2009 season. In terms of a dominant sprinting performance over an entire season, Majdic’s 2008-2009 campaign may only be matched by Ola Vigen Hattestad’s performance that same year. Ironically, her worst race that season (12th) came at World Championships. Bad luck followed her into next season at the Olympics in Vancouver, where she famously fell while warming up. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge deal, but she happened to fall quite a ways into a drainage culvert and ended up with several broken ribs and a pneumothorax. She somehow managed to race anyway and won a bronze medal in an event that she could easily have won under other circumstances. Unbelievable.


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