As we all know by now the US Women’s Biathlon Team made history during the Women’s 4x6km race this past weekend. It was the highest placed finish for a US Women’s relay team since their 2nd place finish in the World Championships in 1994. Their 40.1 second deficit was also the closest they have been to the winning time of a relay…EVER. I didn’t believe it at first but I went back and looked at the times, and while my eyes went blurry after awhile I couldn’t find a record of anything closer.
What I wanted to do today was to give some perspective. Was this performance a record, yes, but just a little better than previous bests or did this blow away prior history? Also being 40.1 seconds off the winning time and finishing 6th seemed a little strange to me. Shouldn’t they have been higher? I wanted to see if they had performed this well relative to the winning time in the past, where would they have finished?
My initial project was to go through every race that I could find a record for. After making it through the last 10 years and 50 races of data I decided that was ‘good enough’ to start making some conclusions. If I get a second wind I’ll try to get another 10 years of data collated. So what did I find?
Well first of all here’s the data I was working with. Just as a short hand the green highlighted rows are World Championships/Olympics and the bolded races were the last race of a particular year. I just did this to try to make it easier on myself. I apologize for the at times strange formatting. Please remember I’m doing this in the middle of the night with my infant son sometimes draped across me and he doesn’t seem to appreciate what I’m trying to do!
The first thing that popped out to me were the sheer number of events for which the US team did not even participate. There were 13 by my count and that does not count the handful of instances where the team was lapped but still given a place. That alone should tell you that this was an amazing performance!
Above you’ll see the data I really focused in on. Look right near the top, the average Team USA finish was just 12.2. You can see in the big chart that the best finish prior to this past weekend was 7th at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. More recently there was a decent stretch from Canmore in the 18-19 season through Hochfilzen 19-20 the team went 8, 9, 10, 8 in those 4 races. If you remove those the average finish drops further to 13th. So to answer the first question clearly this was a significantly better finish than average for Team USA.
Secondly it does appear that they were a little unlucky to “only” finish 6th being 40.1 seconds off the lead. In the 50 prior races if a team had finished 40 seconds off of the lead they would have averaged a 4th place finish. Now granted they finished a fraction of a second behind Norway who grabbed the 5th spot. However but the same token it was a ski throw by Deedra Irwin that snuck USA above Italy or it could have easily been a 7th place finish.
You can look even a little further and see that on average, a team that was 40 seconds off the winning time would have been just 2.4 seconds off the podium! Additionally on average they would have been very safely inside the top 5 with an average 5th place time 1:28 off the lead. When you look at all of this it does appear that Team USA was just a touch unlucky and you could argue the “deserved” a top 3-4 finish in this race.
I was curious what the numbers looked like for World Championships/Olympics races. Not surprisingly everybody gets a little better for the championship races. In those 10 races everything gets a little bit tighter at the top but even still a team finishing 40 seconds back would have finished top 5.
This actually isn’t to bemoan Team USA’s luck but it is to celebrate what a great performance it really was! So congratulations to Susan Dunklee, Joanne Reid, Clare Egan, and Deedra Irwin on an absolutely terrific performance!!