Ancient drawings, perhaps 6,000 years old, appear to show wooden skis with which to glide on snow. One of the first recorded uses of cross-country skis dates to Norway, 1206, an event still marked by the famous Birkebeinerrennet race. The sport most likely came to North America in the 1850s.
Racers use two basic techniques in cross-country skiing: classic technique, where the skis move parallel to each other through machine-groomed tracks in the snow; and free technique, where skiers propel themselves in a manner similar to speed skating, pushing off with the edge of their skis. Free technique uses shorter skis and is slightly faster. There are six Olympic events for both men and women.
In the individual start, women race 10 km and men race 15 km. A skier starts every 30 seconds, the biggest medal threats starting at the very end. In mass start, skiers start simultaneously, lined up in an arrow format. The best-ranked skiers are positioned at the arrow’s point. Women race 30 km and men 50 km.
There are individual and team sprints. Skiers must advance past heats, quarter-finals and semifinals for the chance at a medal. Six individuals race for the gold. Ten teams race for that gold, where two skiers alternate three times, needing to touch each other for a clean exchange.
The pursuit event combines both a classic technique leg followed by a free technique leg. At the race’s halfway mark, athletes enter the stadium and change skis and poles as quickly as possible. In the relay event, teams of four ski the first two legs of the relay using the classic technique, and the last two legs using free technique. Both also begin in the arrow format.
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