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Cross country ski racing for dummies: What to know about a thrilling Olympic event

February 16, 2010 – 12:08 PM

By Sarah Odell

Let’s take a breather. Time out from Lindsey Vonn and women in bathing suits. For me, one of the most frustrating aspects about Olympic coverage is that we usually can only watch sports that the United States dominates (or sports that are surrounded in controversy). As a result, many sports I know little about. So this week, I talked to Rosie Brennan, a member of the Women’s Cross Country Team at Dartmouth College. Rosie explained how the sport works, and that it’s much more than the image I had — of my father climbing the hill in my yard and skiing down it.

FGN: I need a crash course in competitive Cross Country Skiing…
RB: Cross Country skiing is made up of two disciplines, freestyle and classical. Like alpine, in order to win the World Cup, you have to be good at both. Although racers tend to be better in one or the other, they are forced to compete in both. There are six different events at the Olympics and the technique used, freestyle or classic, switches every Olympic year.

FGN: What are the events this year?
RB: This year the events are:

The 10/15 km individual start freestyle. This race is a time trial event where racers are started every 30 seconds.  (The women ski 10 km and the men ski 15 km)

Classic Sprint. In the Classic Sprint, men and women must pass qualifying rounds to make it into the finals. Only the top 30 men and women will move past the initial round. The course in Whistler is 1.7 km for men and 1.4 km for women. Classic Sprint races are very exciting because athletes crash as they dash for the line. The Whistler course has a big 180 degree downhill corner and a long finishing stretch. The United States has been very successful in this event.

The 15/30 km pursuits. The 15/30 km pursuits feature both the freestyle and classic technique, with a mass start. Racers begin by skiing classic and finish skating

Team Sprint Freestyle. The team Sprint freestyle uses the same course as the individual sprint, but the teams are made up of two skiers who trade skiing laps of the course until three laps have been competed. There is only a semi and a final because of the overall length of this event. Both distance skiers and sprinters come together in the Team Sprint.

4X5/10 km relay. The 4×5/ 10 km relay is a mass start as well, with each skier going 5/10 km before tagging their teammate. This event features a rivalry between the Italian and Norwegen men.

The 30/50 mass start classic. The 30/50 km mass start classic is considered one of the best events. It takes place at the end of the games, and is a long and grueling event, but is often very exciting because a lot can happen through the length of the race.

FGN: How are events judged?
RB: All events are solely based on time. Obviously, there are rules as to what technique you can use and such, but it is purely who is the fastest skier.

FGN: Who are the American women to watch?
RB: Kikkan Randall.  She is the star sprinter of the women’s team. She was the first American women to win a world cup and to win a medal at world championships — both in the sprint event.

FGN What is the least known fact about Cross Country skiers?
RB: Cross country skiing athletes are truly remarkable. They are without a doubt the most fit athletes in the world. The top level skiers train 750-1000 hours a year. These are hours spent constantly in motion. Unlike soccer practice where time is spent learning plays, moves, and drills, every single one of these hours is spent creating a higher oxygen capacity and getting stronger. All courses are made off big climbs and fast downhills. Skiers can reach speeds of 30 mph which is remarkable because cross country skis do not have edges. Balance and coordination play a key role in being successful.

Rosie Brennan of Dartmouth in a cross country ski race

  1. One Response to “Cross country ski racing for dummies: What to know about a thrilling Olympic event”

  2. Why do they change there skies in the 50km race?

    By Brooke on Feb 28, 2010

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