Cross-Country Skiing

2010-02-08 18:21 BJT

Paintings thought to be at least 6,000 years old, discovered in Russia in the 1930s, show a hunter alongside some reindeer. The hunter is wearing skis, clearly illustrating that using two wooden slats to travel quickly on snow has been central to survival in cold climates for centuries.

By the year 1500, the entire Swedish army was fully equipped with skis; the Norwegian army held cross-country ski competitions as early as 1767. The first civilian cross-country ski event took place in Tromso, located in Norway’s far north, in 1843.

Cross-country skiers competed at the first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix, France, in 1924, in 18-kilometre and 50-kilometre races for men. Ladies’ cross-country skiing made its debut at the Oslo 1952 Olympic Winter Games. The cross-country skiing technique known as skating or free technique, became a separate Olympic competitive discipline at the Calgary 1988 Winter Games.

How It Works

Racers use two basic techniques in cross-country skiing: classic technique, where the skis move parallel to each other through machine-groomed tracks in the snow, and free technique, where skiers propel themselves in a manner similar to speed skating, pushing off with the edge of their skis. Free technique uses shorter skis and is slightly faster than classic — on average about eight per cent faster over an entire race distance.

In Olympic cross-country skiing, women compete in individual sprint, team sprint, 10 km individual start, 15 km pursuit, 30 km mass start and the 4 x 5-km relay. Men compete in individual sprint, team sprint, 15 km individual start, 30 km pursuit, 50 km mass start and the 4 x 10 km relay. The technique used (classic versus free) in the 10 and 15 km individual start, individual sprint, team sprint and mass start alternates with each cycle of Olympic Games.

Individual Start

In this event, women race 10 kilometres and men race 15 kilometres. A competitor starts every 30 seconds, with the best skiers starting at the very end. Skiers race against the clock. The winner is the skier with the lowest time.

Mass Start

The mass start event was introduced at the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Skiers start simultaneously, lined up in an arrow format. The best-ranked skiers are positioned at the arrow’s point. The ladies’ event is 30 kilometres and the men’s event is 50 kilometres. Skiing shorter loops in this event allows competitors to pass through the stadium every 10 to 12 minutes. The first athlete across the line wins. It is not uncommon for 10 skiers to be fighting for the line, often resulting in a photo finish (when the athletes cross the finish line so close together, the winner must be determined by a photograph taken at the moment of crossing).


The pursuit event combines both a classic technique leg followed by a free technique leg. Similar to the mass start event, competitors begin simultaneously, lined up in an arrow format with the best-ranked skiers at the arrow’s point. At the race’s halfway mark, athletes enter the stadium and change skis and poles as quickly as possible. The women ski a 7.5-kilometre. classic course, followed by 15 kilometres of free technique; the men ski 15 kilometres classic followed by 15 kilometres free. Short loops ensure the competitors pass through the stadium every six to eight minutes. The first athlete to cross the finish line wins.

Individual Sprint

The individual sprint begins with a qualification round where skiers start in 15-second intervals skiing one lap of the 1.2-kilometre (women) or 1.4-kilometre (men) course. The top 30 finishers from this round advance to the quarter finals. The quarter-final, semi-final and A-and B-final rounds have six skiers in each heat; the top two skiers from each heat, and the top two fastest skiers from each round, advance to the next round. The A-final consists of six skiers vying for the gold medal.

Team Sprint

In team sprint, teams consist of two athletes who alternate skiing the sprint course, three times each, for a total of six laps. After an initial semi-final round, consisting of 10-15 teams in each heat, the best five teams from two semi-finals qualify for the final round. Athletes must perform a correct exchange between laps by physically touching their teammate without interfering or obstructing other teams. The winning team is the first team to cross the finish line after the completion of all six laps.


In the relay event, teams of four ski the first two legs of the relay using the classic technique, and the last two legs using free technique. The women ski four x 5-kilometre legs for a total of 20 kilometres while the men ski four x 10-kilometre legs for a total of 40 kilometres. The relay begins in a mass start format with teams lined up in rows; the exchange between skiers is similar to that in the team sprint competition. The winning team is the first to cross the finish line after the fourth leg of the relay has been completed.

Competition Events

Men's 30 km Pursuit (15 Classic+15 Free)

Ladies' 15 km Pursuit (7.5 Classic+7.5 Free)

Men's Individual Sprint Classic

Ladies' Individual Sprint Classic

Men's Team Sprint Free

Ladies' Team Sprint Free

Men's 4x10 km Relay Classic/Free

Ladies' 4x5 km Relay Classic/Free

Men's 15 km Individual Free

Ladies' 10 km Individual Free

Men's 50 km, Mass Start Classic

Ladies' 30 km, Mass Start Classic

Editor: Zhang Ning | Source: