After watching the total domination of World Cup competition over the last two years by Vanessa Fernandes and Javier Gomez, we might be tempted to just call them up, give them the Gold medals and have races in Beijing for Silver and Bronze. The fact is that the races in Beijing are not done deals and there are plenty of contenders, both in the women’s and men’s races but especially in the men’s, that can pull off an upset win.
World Cup racing is different from big Championship racing. In order to have a good World Cup campaign, athletes need to be at a good level during large periods of time during the season. In order to achieve this, their level of form needs to have very little variation. Of course this leaves out the possibility of achieving a peak performance at a given race. For most races, this is not a problem for athletes like Javier and Vanessa, since their average level is still well above the average level of everyone else racing against them. Their problem arises at big Championship races, when their main competition are athletes that are looking for a peak performance. In that instance, their average, even if at a pretty high level, it’s still not enough to beat peak performances from other athletes. Good examples of this was Daniel Unger winning Hamburg Worlds, Rasmus Henning winning Des Moines last year or the close races that Vanessa has had at Worlds in the last 3 years.
Another factor to consider is that Javier and Vanessa win a lot because… they race a lot. Racing a lot of World Cups is very stressful. There’s the flying and the airports and the time away from family and home. All this stress also represents time away from training. Those that race a lot, don’t improve as much as those that build up towards a few goal in each season. Those that race a lot build their fitness during the off-season and in between races, and (hopefully) maintain it when racing. So we can say that, even if they’re at a higher level, they are not improving as much as they could (a “scary” thought, having an even faster Vanessa!).
Of course that it’s not like Vanessa and Javier, and more importantly their coaches, are not aware of these factors. And I’m pretty sure that they want to win in Beijing pretty badly. But all this is to say that it’s going to be two amazingly competitive races, with no anticipated winners. And why? Because… IT’S THE OLYMPICS!