Friday, February 20, 2009

Freeman Repeats!

I think we can all agree that Kris Freeman's 4th place in today's 15k Classic at World Champs was completely predictable. After all, this is the same guy who got 4th place in the 15k Classic at the 2003 World Championships in Val di Fiemme. There's not much you can bank on in skiing, but Freeman getting 4th in a 15k classic at Worlds? Duh!

Seriously though -- in the six years between his two fourth places, Freeman's career could charitably be described as "showed some promise" and un-charitably be described as "generally mediocre." The only thing more impressive than his fourth place today was the manner in which it was achieved.

Freeman wore bib 21, seeded well ahead of all the favorites. He passed through the 5k check in 2nd, trailing only Franz Goering (#9), which was interesting but not particularly foreboding. By the time all the favorites had come through, Freeman's 5k time had slid to 21st-best, 32 seconds behind the leader, Lukas Bauer.

However, Freeman started his second loop just before Bauer started his first, giving Freeman the opportunity to race head-to-head with arguably the race favorite. Except he had already skied 5k, and Bauer had not.

Nevertheless Freeman was able to hang with Bauer, and began a swift ascent up the standings by keeping pace with the race leader. When Freeman reach the 6.85k he was still 2nd on the course, but his time only fell to 14th by the end; at 8.15k he had moved ahead of Goering to set the fastest time at that check, eventually dropping to 10th there. He led at all splits beyond that point.

At 10k Freeman was 6th overall, and only 27 seconds behind Bauer, whom he was still following on the course; at 11.8k he was 4th. With just over a kilometer remaining in his race, he passed Bauer as Bauer set the best time at the 8.9k mark.

This is surely a very rare occurrence -- the race leader getting passed by an athlete who has skied 50% further than he has!

In the last 10k of the race Freeman skied the fastest split of anyone, 25:53, beating the eventual winner Veerpalu by 6 seconds, Bauer by 21 seconds, and 3rd place "Finnisher" Matti Heikkinen by 25 seconds.

Freeman managed to ski negative splits for the race -- 13:18.8, 13:00.2, 12:52.2, also a very rare occurrence in elite competition. Could he have been 1.5 seconds faster and made the podium with a more even pacing strategy?

Probably not. With Bauer starting 13:30 behind him and being the event's favorite, it was almost assured that Freeman would be caught by Bauer just after starting his second lap. The dirty secret of World Cup interval starts is that you have to draft the hell out of anyone you can, and a huge number of "breakout" races are actually due to starting 30 seconds ahead of someone fast enough to tow you to a good spot once they catch you. Knowing this, Freeman's strategy would have been to either hitch himself to Martin Johnsrud Sundby, #47, or Bauer, #48, after a lap. To link up with Sundby he would've had to post one of the fastest first laps of the whole race, and even then, would you trust your race to a "Norwegian" named John?

Indeed, Sundby eventually finished 2:30 down, so even if Freeman had skied with him up after a lap, he still would have been caught by Bauer soon enough.

(The fact that Sundby was dropped, hard, by Bauer, shows that "just draft Lukas Bauer" isn't as simple a strategy as it might sound, especially when you've skied 5k further than he has.)

So, Freeman was almost definitely going to meet Bauer on the course regardless of how fast he started, and since Bauer's superhuman, taking a slightly easier first lap knowing he'd have to ski out of his mind to hang with Lukas was probably the right strategy. If Freeman was to make up 1.5 seconds, he'd have to do at the end -- and his final lap of 12:52.2 was the second-fastest lap of the entire day, behind only Bauer's first lap.

Which is pretty cool, I'm just trying to say.


Christopher Tassava said...

Great, great post. The analysis is fascinating. I noted somewhere else that Veerpalu benefited from running with Mae for much of the race, too. Boulder Nordic Sport has a great trackside report on Freeman's race that corroborates everything in your post and adds a lot about the skis and wax.

Anonymous said...

i bet freeman would have been able to podium if haakenin? hadn't skated multiple times with 100 m to go

Colin R said...


Most skiers did several skate strides while changing from the lap lane to the finish lane, at least all the ones that were show from the overhead cam. It's pretty likely Freeman took the same strides as well.

Anonymous said...

If you watch the race from the overhead cam you see freeman simply steps once with one leg. The fin takes 1.5 offset strides, a full skate and a step before continuing to double pole. He even prompts Mike Dixon to comment on the skate.