How embarrassing is it for our sport that no one seems to be able to reliably count the number of World Cup victories of our best athletes?
Here’s the deal. Marit Björgen has attracted some attention lately for the number of total WC victories to her name, which is generally thought to be at least 40, although different people will report slightly different numbers. For example, see these Scandinavian news reports on the topic here and here.
As far as I can tell, everyone is getting the count for Björgen wrong. This is harder to count than is seems, so I’m going to discuss this in what will probably be painful detail.
First, we need to agree on what counts as a World Cup race. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering, how could we be confused about what is or is not a WC race? There are two basic issues:
- Do we count the overall results from stage race formats like the Tour de Ski, the World Cup Final or the most recent Nordic Opener in Kuusamo? Athletes receive World Cup points for the overall standings, as well as for the results of each individual stage. If you get WC points for it, isn’t it a WC “race”?
- Prior to 1999, I believe, the Olympics and World Championships were counted as part of the World Cup schedule, but that is not the case anymore. This becomes important for comparing people like Björgen to other greats like Bente Skari Martinsen or Bjorn Dählie. Why? Well, this is debatable, but skiers now are faced with more races to choose from in Olympic or World Championship years, whereas before those races were simply folded into the WC schedule. So Björgen has faced more of a tradeoff than Skari or Dählie did in choosing to skip normal WC’s in order to prepare for other major events like Olympics or WSC’s.
I’m not going to argue for a “correct” answer to either of these issues, I’ll simply count victories as best as I can and include enough information for you to go whichever way you want for the final tally. Here we go…
Starting with Dählie, my records only extend back to around 1992, so according to FIS, my database is missing his five first WC victories. If I include those five, that yields a total of 38 wins in races that are only WCs and another 8 from races that doubled as WSC or OWG, for a total of 46. Additionally, he had another 2 OWG wins that did not also count as WC races, which could bring his total up to 48 if you wanted.
Bente Skari Martinsen is where the trouble begins. FIS and I agree on the “official” records, which have her winning 40 WC races, plus one more that doubled as a WSC race for a total of 41. There are now two wrinkles. First, there was a sprint race in January 2001 in Soldier Hollow for which only the qualification results survived. Skari claims she won the heats (and I don’t doubt her) but FIS, having “lost” the results, seems to consider the qualification results as official. So now we have her at either 41 or 42, depending on whether we want to count this unusual sprint. Second, Skari also has 5 more victories in OWG/WSC races that did not also count as WCs, which would give her either 46 or 47 total.
Finally, we have Björgen. This is the one that everyone’s been getting wrong, and it’s not their fault. The FIS website has a few quirks in it that make it unreliable. Basically, they aren’t very consistent in how they enter the “Discipline” field in their database, which means that when you try to pull up just World Cup victories it can miss some races.
If you simply go to the Biography section of the FIS website and pull up her WC results, sorted by performance and count them, you’ll get 41 victories (excluding the relay’s, of course). However, there a few problems. First, that list is missing her win in a sprint stage of the 2006-2007 Tour de Ski, which if you look at the PDF reports for that race, she pretty clearly received WC points for. The problem is that no one entered “WC” in the right field in the database entry for that race, so it doesn’t pop up in the search.
It get’s worse. The search results include both of her overall stage race victories (Kuusamo and the World Cup Final in Falun last season) and it’s unclear to me whether these should count. Even so, three more results aren’t included, namely her actual individual stage wins from Kuusamo in the sprint and classic race and her pursuit victory from the Falun WC Final!
What does that leave us with? Well, that means Björgen has (as of 12/17/2010) 43 individual WC victories, plus another two overall stage wins which netted her WC points. Additionally, she has another 4 wins from WSC/OWG races that did not double as WC races.
Here’s a table to help you sort all this out:
|World Cup||OWG (+WC)||WSC (+WC)||OWG (not WC)||WSC (not WC)||Overall Stage Race||Total|
|Skari||41 (42)||0||1||1||4||0||47 (48)|
Personally, I don’t think it’s fair that Dählie gets credit for all those WSC/OWG wins as “World Cup” wins but that Björgen does not get the same credit for hers. I think the decision to include the overall stage victories is more debatable, and depends upon your basic conception of what the sport should be. Still, even by the most generous counting, Björgen has already tied Skari at 43, and barring catastrophe should easily move past both her and Dählie (46) this season. Finally, if you give everyone credit for all their WSC/OWG wins, she’s already moved past them both, even without her overall stage race wins (my bad!)!
In any case, Marit Björgen will be racing for her forty-fourth WC victory this weekend. Period.
Adendum: I thought it would be good to clarify a few things based on some issues raised in the comments. I happily concede that for whatever reason, FIS seems to have decided that the “official” count of WC victories includes overall stage race results, but not the stages themselves. My issue is that just because it’s “official”, doesn’t make it correct. To be “official”, all that is required is for FIS to say it is so. But as the organizing body of the sport, those decisions need to be sensible as well.
- “Officially”, Andreas Geipel (currently 4 years old) apparently will go on to construct a time machine, travel back to Dec 1998 and participate in a WC sprint race.
- “Officially”, Remo Fischer competed twice in the same OPA Cup race back in Dec. 2004 (search for “remo” on that page, and note that even the FIS Codes match). ”Officially” this is only one of thirty-four instances that I have found of the identical athlete+FIS code appearing twice in the results for a single race (never in a WC/OWG/WSC race, though).
Now, mistakes happen. My database has errors in it, I’m certain. So my point was simply that the way that FIS is counting WC victories seems to me to be rather obviously wrong in a way that deserved pointing out.
And yes, getting worked up over this may be a sign that I’m slightly crazy.