The guys from ExtraRunde, a great podcast about biathlon in German on Mondays and in English for some specials, were discussing that it almost seems that when Wierer starts far behind in the Pursuit her results are often better than when she has a good starting position. This feels to be a correct conclusion, but it is correct according to the data? Time to analyse.
Let’s start by looking at all Wierer’s result in the current season so far:
When we look at this same data but in a scatter plot we can draw a trendline that shows things a bit more clear:
So it appears that indeed when Wierer starts later in the Pursuit competitions, her results regarding catching up positions get better. But that’s only for 6 races. Now let’s do the same charts but for Wierer’s Pursuit races in the current and two previous seasons:
Now we have 19 races and the trend is still there. There is a bit of a catch with looking at the number of places gained: when you start first, there are only places to lose; when you start last, there are only places to gain. So this trend is kind of what you could expect: as there are more places to gain and less to lose you tend to gain more. Let’s look at all pursuit races since the 2018-2019 season and look at all athletes while removing the DNF’s etc.:
This shows the same trend, so we can confirm what we already figured out above, the more opportunities you have to gain positions, the more you will gain, and the other way around.
Can we look more specifically at particular measurements that can express Wierer’s performance, other than Bib and Rank, or even time behind at the start and at the finish? Is perhaps her shooting better if she starts further down, or her ski times? Her shooting does actually get worse the further behind she starts:
And her skiing?
The only thing I can say about her skiing is that when Wierer’s starting time behind increases the variation becomes a bit bigger. But more importantly, what goes both for shooting and skiing, it is fair to assume that as Wierer starts further behind based on worse results in the sprint, her shape is likely not at her peak. With that in mind, if her shape is not great, her skiing and shooting will also not be great, which could explain the shooting trend. Another fact to consider, which mostly impacts her shooting, is that the further back she starts, the more risk she will be taking to catch up to the lead, pushing a little harder on the skis, leading to more misses in the range.
I can say that yes, as the starts later, her number of places gained is higher. But this applies to all athletes. To say that she does better when she has more places to catch up makes sense as much for her as it does for anyone else.