Sport guide – Cross-Country Skiing: a Winter Olympic all-terrain test made in the military

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Gliding through forests, speeding downhill, battling uphill and powering across flat sections – cross country skiing is a true test of athleticism, endurance and race management.

 

From humble origins to show-stopper

Having been used for millennia as a mode of transportation in countries with regular snowfall, Norwegian military units first began staging races in the 18th century. It has been an Olympic sport since the very start, too, debuting in Chamonix 1924, and remains a one of the most anticipated series of events at every Olympic Winter Games.

The sports features a number of different length races using two main techniques. The more traditional classical style only allows for straight propulsions: uphill slopes must be mounted using side steps or a “herringbone” walk. In freestyle races, the faster skate-skiing technique – moving the legs diagonally as if ice skating – is permitted, and best used on groomed, smooth surfaces.

Like athletics at the summer Olympic Games, both explosive, powerful sprinters and those more suited to long distance racing are catered for.

In skiathlon, one section of the course is covered in classical style, the other freestyle, while a variety of different relays are also staged. Individual and sprint events are contested against the clock, while in skiathlon and the mass start, all contenders leave the line together.

 

The Calender

The events at PyeongChang 2018 are the Women’s skiathlon (10 February), men’s skiathlon (11 February), men’s and women’s individual sprint classic (both 13 February), women’s 10km freestyle (15 February), men’s 15km freestyle (16 February), women’s 4 x 5km relay (17 February), men’s 4 x 10km relay (18 February), men’s and women’s team sprint freestyle (21 February), men’s 50km mass start classic (24 February) and women’s 30km mass start classic (25 February).

The action takes place at the Alpensia Cross Country Centre, which has undergone significant renovation and was reopened in December 2017, with capacity for 7,500 spectators.

The sport is something akin to a religion in Norway, and the nation has been the prime force in previous Olympic Winter Games, winning an impressive 107 medals, 40 of them gold. Scandinavian rivals Sweden (74, 29 gold) and Finland (76, 20 gold) are close behind; Russia and Italy are also contenders.

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