A couple of big names were doing some smaller FIS races this past weekend. Petter Northug is trying to regain his form after a rough start to his season mixed with some illness, Aino-Kaisa Saarinen is recovering from a shoulder injury and Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset is trying to work his way onto the Norweigan squad for World Championships in Oslo.
All three had seemingly strong results, Northug winning the 30km skate on Saturday, Hjelmeset winning the 10km classic the next day (both races in Norway) and Saarinen winning the 5km classic held in Grom, Switzerland. As always, it’s difficult to know what any of these results mean. Northug and Saarinen were likely treating these races as training as much as anything (Hjelmeset’s incentives were probably stronger) and the competition they faced wasn’t necessarily very strong.
We can shed a little bit more light on their performances by looking at how their victories stack up compared to how they’ve done against the particular group of skiers they beat that day. Starting with Northug:
I tweaked these plots slightly, adding a red dot indicating the median for the race in question. The red line still represents the median for the entire season.
Northug’s median difference in percent back (red line) clearly indicates that he normally handles this group of 40 skiers or so fairly easily. Saturday’s race (blue) was certainly more in line with his past performances than his less than stellar races earlier this season. So that seems like a pretty legitimate effort on Northug’s part. Of course, he didn’t fare quite so well on Sunday:
Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset only raced the second day’s classic event, and won:
This wily veteran (he’s 39!) had some rocky results earlier in the season, but Sunday’s race was more promising. It was good enough to earn him a WC start this weekend in Davos, I believe. He’s a bit of a classic specialist and the 15km WC this weekend is classic, so he could have a good result.
Aino-Kaisa Saarinen also did some tune-up racing in Switzerland:
Here’s a good example, I think, of why these graphs are useful. Saarinen crushed a rather unimpressive looking field by ~36 seconds in a 5km race. Additionally, many of the top 40 were skiers that she’s never raced against, which is why there are somewhat fewer points in her graph. On the face of it, that can be tough to draw many conclusions from. However, looking at her race compared to when she’s raced against these specific people in the past, it becomes more clear that she did fairly well.
Certainly it’s the case that there wasn’t anyone at this race that normally challenges her. However, she beat this group by as much, or slightly more than she has in the past. So I’d say she’s well on her way to full recovery from the shoulder injury and should be at full strength this weekend.
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