Thursday, January 28, 2010

Those Who Can, Ski; Those Who Can't, Criticize

We're coming up on a big, big, big racing weekend - looking just at a few of the marathons, there's the Noquemanon in northern Michigan, Craftsbury in Vermont, and the fabled, giant, highly competitive Marcialonga in Italy. I'm not skiing in any of those races, though, so I'll turn my competitive impulses to critiquing some of the mainstream media's Olympic-preview coverage.

First up, Brian Cazeneuve's preview of the cross-country skiing events in Sports Illustrated. He's mostly right in talking about Northug's dominance and brashness (though arguably it's his tactics, not his antics, that trouble other racers) and about Randall as the best U.S. hope.

But he misses badly in analyzing the "grudge match" in the XC events. Four-country dominance? Sure, but look at 2006 or even 2002. At Torino, six countries won golds - but neither Norway nor Finland. At Salt Lake City, seven countries won golds (but only Russia and Norway from the Big Four). Depending on how the man wants to define the term "grudge match," he could have talked about
  • the Italy-Norway rivalry in the men's relay (since 1992, 3-2 in favor of Norway - but with Italy the defending champs after Norway's dismal performance at Torino),
  • Norway's nervousness about their prospects next month,
  • Saarinen vs. Majdic (a literally knock-down, kicked-out fight),
  • Northug vs. Teichmann (okay, okay - lopsided), or, of course,
  • Northug vs. everyone else.
And then there's the concluding paragraph, "Bet you didn't know":
The world's top female skiers come from a much more diverse group of nations than do the men. Consider that the top five world cup leaders all come from different countries: Justyna Kowalczyk (Poland), Petra Majdic (Slovenia), Aino-Kaisa Saarinen (Finland), Arianna Follis (Italy) and Kristin Stoermer Steira (Norway). In the top 15, you'll also find Swedes, Russians, a Slovak and a Ukrainian. Amazingly, though Germany often contends for the top spot in the medal count, there are no German women among the top 20 in a sport that provides the greatest chance to amass medals.
Except for the bit about the lack of German women in the top 20, he's pretty much entirely wrong. Today - after the Rybinsk events last weekend - the women's overall top 15 includes athletes from seven different countries* while the men's overall top 15 includes athletes from nine different countries**. What's more, there's no Slovak in the women's top 15 (the sprinter Prochazkova is in 28th in the overall - does he mean the Slovenian Fabjan, in 19th?) and the Ukranian Shevchenko is in 20th. Go down to 20th place, and the men's list adds a racer from one additional country (Canada!) while the women's includes only racers from the same seven.

What to make of these errors of fact and interpretation? Well, I suppose, not too much. Relative to, say, the American fan base for domestic or world soccer (or for the Big Three pro sports), there simply aren't many people who are deeply interested in top-level cross country skiing, and probably none of them work in Big Media. This kind of column - decently accurate, respectful, middlingly informative - is about the best we can hope for.

Which won't stop me from finding mediocre-to-poor coverage!

* Poland: Kowalcyzk; Slovenia: Majdic; Finland: Saarinen and Roponen; Italy: Follis and Longa; Norway: Steira and Bjorgen; Russia: Korosteleva, Savialova, Khazova, Medvedeva, and Sidko (cough cough - if she's not counted, another Russian, Tchekaleva, moves up); Sweden: Kalla and Falk.

** Norway: Northug, Hattestad; Czech Republic: Bauer; Sweden: Hellner, Rickardsson, Jonsson; Switzerland: Cologna; France: Gaillard, Vittoz; Germany: Teichmann, Sommerfeldt, Filbrich; Finland: Heikkinen; Italy: di Centa; Russia: Vylegzhanin


Anonymous said...

I doubt that Norway and Italy will be the main contenders for the relay this season.

Germany Russia and Sweden looks to have the strongest teams.

Colin R said...

I refuse to believe a relay team anchored by Petter Northug is not a main contender.

Anonymous said...

Well you are correct but there is a lot of pressure on Northug and he cant win the relay alone.
And well Norway is weaker on the 3 first legs then the 3 nations i mentioned.
Now there will probably be a biathlete on the 3 stages (Berger or Hafsas) They are both strong racers. On the 2 first legs i`m not sure there is Ronning Hjelmeset and Sundby and well i guess if they are in good form Norway could contend for the gold but looking at the results so far this season it dose not look promising.

And all that assumes that Northug will ski the relay. I mean with all the races he plans on doing he might get sick or to tired to race.

OEB2ODB said...

"middlingly informative"? whaaa! you gots all the good news! where would we be without you! keep posting!