At the 1st Olympic Winter Games of 1924 in Chamonix, there were men’s 18km and 50km races, but it wasn’t until 1952 at the Games in Oslo that women made their cross country debut. Soviet athlete Ljubov Baranova (Kozyreva) took first place in the 10 km race. Other events and race formats have been added since the first appearance at the Games. The sport of Cross-Country Skiing saw a significant change in 1988 in Calgary when the sport evolved to allow the new free technique events. Another innovation was the mass start, which saw all of the athletes starting at the same time instead of one by one every 30 seconds; this was introduced in the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002. In Salt Lake City, the new Sprint event (approximately 1.5 km) was also offered for the first time in the Olympic Games.
Cross-Country Skiing in Russia
It is generally accepted that cross country skiing in Russia was born on December 29, 1895. On this day, the Moscow Skiing Club—the country’s first organization dedicated to the promotion of skiing—opened to great fanfare in Russia’s capital. On February 7th, 1910 Pavel Bychkov won the first Russian cross-country championship over a distance of 30 versts (1 verst is an old Russian measure of distance equal 3500 feet). Over the years, 42 Russian crosscountry skiers have been crowned Olympic champions. The most distinguished Russian athletes are: Lyubov Egorova – 6-time Olympic champion; Larissa Lazutina – 5 gold Olympic medals; Nikolai Zimyatov – 4; Galina Kulakova -4; Raisa Smetanina – 4; and Elena Vjalbe – 3-time Olympic champion.
Cross-Country Skiing as it is
At the Olympic Winter Games, the cross-country skiing discipline comprises twelve different events. They include sprint, team sprint, individual start, pursuit, mass start and relay events.
The Individual Interval Start Race is the traditional race format, where skiers compete against the clock. The skiers start the race at 30-second intervals in reverse order to their season ranking. This means that the top ranked skier will start last. The winner of the race is the skier with the fastest time. Coaches along the course time their athletes, calling out their rank at specific points of the race. Racers who are overtaken by faster competitors must step aside if necessary to allow the faster skier to pass. In the Olympic Individual Interval Start Race, men compete over a distance of 15km (in loops of 5km) while women race a ski 10km (in loops of 5km).
The Sprint Competition will, after a qualifying round (in individual interval start format), consist of 30 skiers competing in elimination heats. In the elimination heats (quarterfinals and semifinals) the skiers start side by side and race one time around a 1.3 - 1.6km loop. The two fastest skiers in each heat advance to the next round. For the 6th positions in the semi-final heats and for the 5 and 6th positions in the final heat, the next two fastest competitors who are ranked 3rd or 4th (called “lucky losers”) will advance. Six skiers compete in the medal round for the Olympic medals.
The team sprint competition consists of teams of two skiers skiing one at a time, tagging their teammate upon completing a 1.5 km leg. The two skiers alternate skiing one leg each, for a total of 6 legs (3 legs each). 10 teams qualify for the finals through qualification heats, and start in a modified (arrow shape format) mass start on the first leg. In this race, there are often rapid lead changes and high speed.
The Pursuit race is an exciting mass start race where skiers ski the first half of the race using the classic technique (and the necessary equipment), then switch to the free technique (in the stadium) before completing the competition. The clock is running during the equipment exchange, similar to a “pit stop” in car racing. The first skier to cross the finish line is the Pursuit winner. The skiers are required to change skis at the halfway point, and frequently also change poles. In the Pursuit race, men race 15 km (in loops of 3.75 km) using each technique (for a total distance of 30km), while women race 7.5km (in loops of 2.5 km) for a total distance of 15km. The competition course is usually laid out in such a way that the skiers pass through the stadium several times.
Individual Mass Start Races are the longest individual Cross Country races at the Olympic Winter Games. In the Individual Mass Start Races, men race over a distance of 50km, while women ski a distance of 30km. The long-distance mass start events will line the whole field of skiers in rows of 7 – 11, starting a field of 60 to 80 skiers by a start gun. This particular format can be compared to bicycle racing, where large groups of athletes use strategy and tactics to gain an advantage during the course of the race, and then demonstrate their sprinting abilities at the finish. The employment of short loops allows spectators in the stadium to see the contestants every 10-12 minutes. The first skier to finish is the winner, although it is not unusual to have up to 10 athletes vying for the victory in a photo finish.
The Relay format features teams of four skiers from each competing country. The two first skiers on each team must use the classic technique while the last two must use the free technique (usually skiing a different course). Skiers take turns competing, and tag their teammate in an exchange zone at the end of leg of the relay race. The team that completes all four legs of the race first is the winner. In the Relays, men race four 10-km legs each, while women race four 5-km legs.
- Cross-country boots for classic technique are similar in design to running shoes. The boots for free technique are more rigid and have more ankle support than the boots used for classic technique. The bindings secure only the toe of the boot to the ski.
- For classic technique, the poles should extend to a standing skier’s armpit. For free technique, the poles are generally longer and stiffer and extend to the chin or mouth of the skier. They are usually made of graphite or fiberglass.
- The skis are long and thin, to distribute the weight of the skier and allow the skier to move quickly. Depending on the ski design and purpose, they are customized to fit the skier.
- The wax can be of two types: glide wax and kick wax, also known as grip wax. Glide waxes are used to make a ski glide faster. Kick waxes are used to provide a grip on snow when weight is transferred to a ski; they are used in classic technique only.
- The suit is made from stretch fabric (lycra) that hugs the body and considerably reduces wind resistance when racing.
Cross-Country Skiing in Sochi
During the Olympic Winter Games of 2014 in Sochi,skiers will use courses laid out at the «Laura» Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center located on the Psekhako Ridge.
The Center includes a 9,600 seat stadium; courses for freestyle and classic skiing; a warm-up zone; and a temporary building for functional groups that will provide services related to the organization and administration of the Olympic Games.
This facility was commissioned in 2012 for test competitions. After the Games, Olympic cross-country courses will become part of the Biathlon and Cross-Country Skiing Center.
Innovative snow-making technology will be utilized by the Organizing Committee, thereby allowing the Games to be held in Sochi unique climatic conditions.