Cross Country Skiing
Australia and Olympic Cross Country Skiing
Bruce Haslingden and Cedric Sloan were Australia’s first cross country representatives at an Olympic Winter Games. They participated in the 18km and 50km events at the 1952 Games in Oslo. Neither of them finished the gruelling 50km event and placed 74th and 75th respectively in the 18km event.
Three Australian athletes have placed in the 30-40th place range including Australia’s first female competitor Colleen Bolton. Bolton competed in the 5km classic and the 10km classic at the Lake Placid Games in 1980 placing 36th and 35th respectively.
It was another 26 years before two more Australian women, Esther Bottomley and Clare-Louise Brumley competed at the Torino Games. They were also joined by Paul Murray. Murray and Bottomley continued their Olympic careers in Vancouver in 2010 along with teammate Ben Sim.
Cross country has been contested at every Winter Olympics since 1924 with events for women added in 1952. From Games to Games distances and skiing techniques have changed but the goal to cover the distance as quickly as possible has not. It is without doubt one of the most demanding of all aerobic sports. The Scandinavians and the Russians have dominated the cross country skiing for much of its history.
The Olympic-style discipline involves racing over undulating terrain along a series of prepared tracks. Skiers set off at intervals and race against the clock rather than against each other, with the exception of the pursuit-style races.
Cross country involves two different skiing techniques: classic and freestyle. The classic technique is the traditional one: the skis are kept parallel and never abandon or deviate from the two tracks marked on the course. The freestyle technique allows the skier to choose a style similar to skating, pushing the skis from both legs. Gripping wax is generally applied to the skis to prevent them from slipping backwards on the uphill sections.
There are 12 different cross-country skiing events:
A competitor starts every 30 seconds with the best-ranked skiers starting at the end. Skiers race against the clock with freestyle technique and the winner is the competitor with the quickest time. The women’s event is 10km and the men’s event is 15km.
The individual sprint competition consists of a qualification round and four final rounds: quarter-final, semifinal, A and B finals. For the qualification round, competitors start in 15-second intervals skiing one lap of the course. The top 30 competitors advance to the quarter-finals. The quarter-final, semifinal, and A and B final rounds have six skiers in each heat. The top two competitors from each heat advance to the next round. The A final consists of six skiers competing for the gold medal. The course laps are 1.4km for ladies and 1.6km for men.
The pursuit event consists of a classic technique portion followed by a free technique portion. Competitors start simultaneously, lined up in an arrow format with the best ranked skiers at its point. At the halfway point of the race, competitors enter the stadium and change skis and poles. The first skier across the finish line wins. The ladies ski 7.5km of classic technique followed by 7.5 km of free technique. The men ski 15km of classic technique followed by 15km of free technique.
In the classic events competitors start at 30 second intervals and the winner is the skier with the fastest time.
The team sprint competition consists of two semifinal heats (qualification) and a final heat. In the team sprint, each team is made up of two skiers, who alternate skiing the sprint course three times each for a total of six laps. Competitors must perform a correct exchange between laps by physically touching their teammate without interfering or obstructing other teams. The winning team is the first team to cross the finish line after the completion of all six laps. There are two semifinal heats, with a total of 10 to 15 teams competing. The top three from each heat will advance, and the next four fastest teams will advance. The course laps are 1.4 kilometres for ladies and 1.6 kilometres for men.
Each team has four skiers, each of whom skis one of the four 5km (women) or 10km (men) relay legs. The first two legs of the relay are skied classical style and the final two are freestyle.
Competitors start simultaneously, lined up in rows. The first competitor across the finish line wins the race.