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170 days to go – Cross-Country Skiing

August 25, 2009

To start, I think we all need to send our shouts, cheers and support to our Canadian Cross-Country ski team.  They are currently training in New Zealand and competed this weekend at Winter Games NZ.  And basically, we cleaned up!  Sara Renner (Olympic silver medallist, team pursuit, Torino 2006) won two gold medals, one in women’s 5km freestyle and the other in women’s 10km!  Check out all the Cross-Country ski results from the event on the Fédération de Internationale de Ski (FIS) website here.

Sara Renner

Sara Renner

So, this wonderful news is of course a fantastic way to introduce Olympic Cross-Country skiing.  I will talk about Paralympic Cross-Country skiing soon, but as there are a lot of interesting features of Paralympic skiing, I’m going to do them one at a time.

According to Vancouver 2010 cross-country skiing dates back at least 6,000 years ago based on paintings found in Russia.  By 1500 the Swedish army was equipped with skis and by 1767, cross-country competitions were being held in Norway.

There are two skiing techniques used in the Olympics, classic technique and free technique.  In classic, the skis move parallel to each other through groomed tracks.  In free, the movement is more like skating (sometimes ‘skating’ is a term used for free technique); the athlete pushes off the edges of the skis.  Free technique uses shorter skis and is generally a bit faster than classic.

There are twelve (twelve!!) Olympic cross-country events.  These are: Men’s 30km Pursuit (15 classic + 15 freestyle), Ladies’ 15km Pursuit (7.5 classic + 7.5 freestyle), Men’s and Ladies’ Individual Sprint Classic, Men’s and Ladies’ Team Sprint Free, Men’s 4x10km Relay Classic/Free, Ladies’ 4x5km Relay Classic/Free, Men’s 15km Individual Free, Ladies’ 10km Individual Free, Men’s 50km Mass Start Classic, and Ladies’ 30km Mass Start Classic.  The technique used for the events alternates between each cycle of Olympic Games (for example we have Ladies’ 10km Individual Free, Sochi 2014 will have Ladies’ 10km Individual Classic).

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Cross-Country Ski Emblem

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Cross-Country Ski Emblem

In Individual Starts, competitors start every 30 seconds, and race the clock; the athlete with the lowest time wins.  In Mass Start events, the competitors form up at the start line in an arrowhead shape, with the top ranked skiers at the tip of the point.  The race is held on a short track with the athletes looping through the stadium every 10-12 minutes, and the first competitor across the line wins.  This sounds like an exciting race!!  Pursuit events are also raced on a short course, but the competitors must change skis and poles half way through the race!  In Individual Sprint events competitors start every 15 seconds, and the top 30 racers advance to the quarter finals, followed by subsequent eliminations until 6 racers compete in the final.  Team Sprint consists of teams of two, sprinting around the course 3 times each.  There are also elimination rounds and teams must be careful to transition between the two athletes properly, including physical contact between the teammates without obstructing or interfering with other teams.  And finally, in Relay, four teammates compete, with the first two using classic technique and the second two using free technique.  Like a 4×100 relay in Track & Field, where each competitor only races 100m, in relay each competitor must race 5km (ladies) or 10km (men’s).  Again teammates must be careful to ensure contact between teammates on transitions without obstructing or interfering with other teams.

Now this is all just for pure Cross-Country Skiing.  Cross-country skiing is also an integral part of Biathlon and Nordic Combined (watch for more to come on these sports).  All of these events will be held at the Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley near Whistler.  I believe that there will be tickets available for these events during the last ticket phase in November.

I am heading up to Whistler tomorrow to see some of the venues I missed on my first trip.  I plan on stopping by the Cross-Country Stadium so hopefully I’ll have some of my own photos to post tomorrow.  Until then, thank you and merci!

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