The sport of cross-country skiing is a classic winter sport with a rich heritage. The sport consists of skiers making their way across a snow-covered course made, in equal thirds, of uphill, downhill, and level sections.
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It has been a part of every Winter Games since the inaugural Chamonix 1924 Winter Games, and is a great test of the athletes' stamina. However, it is not only physical and the athletes must pace themselves, strategise, and take technique into consideration as well.
Skiers must employ two different techniques: the skate skiing technique (depicted in the image above) and the classic technique (depicted in the image below). The former, as the name suggests resembles skating in that the movement of the skis is oblique. The skis move diagonally forward, rather than moving straight forward remaining parallel, as they do in the classic technique, wherein the back of the ski boots rise up from the ski snd help move forward. In the skate technique, the skis seem two glide over the snow, as opposed to being pushed forward as in the classic technique. The two techniques require slightly different types of skis. Different races stipulate different techniques and there are 12 events at the Winter Olympics.
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The Individual Free is 10km for women and 15km for men, with the women using skate skiing technique while the men can use either. The competitors start one at a time at 15-30 second intervals and the skier who completes the course in the shortest time wins.
In the Skiathlon, which is 15km for women and twice that distance for men, the competitors race the first half of the course in the classical technique and the second half of the course using the skate skiing technique. They change skis at pit boxes halfway through the race. This race uses a mass start.
The Sprint Classic is the shortest event, ranging from 800-1600m for women and 1000-1800m for men. The athletes start one at a time, using whichever technique they prefer, and ski as fast as they can to try and finish in the shortest time possible.
In the Team Sprint Free, two athletes form a relay team, with each athlete racing alternate sectors. There are 3-6 sectors, each the length of an individual sprint course, and the skiers ay use whichever technique they prefer.
The Mass Start is simple enough to understand the rules of but, for the skiers, it is a gruelling test of strength and stamina. Here too, skiers can choose the technique they wish to utilise. This is the longest cross-country event, standing at 30km for women and a staggering 50km for men.
Four athletes form a team in the Relay, each skiing 5km for women and 10km for men. The first two skiers use the classic technique while the second two employ the skate skiing technique. There is a 30m long changeover zone where one athlete hands over to the next.