Winter Olympic Games: Cross-Country Skiing

A cross-country skiier.
A cross-country skiier.

Cross-country skiing is a sport featuring different formats of cross-country races through courses that have varying lengths. The lengths of the courses are in accordance with laws authorized by the International Ski Federation together with several other national organizations. Some of the national organizations include Cross Country Ski Canada and the US Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA). International cross-country skiing competitions include the Winter Olympic Games, the FIS Nordic World Ski Championship, and the FIS Cross-Country World Cup. The sport comprises of races that take place on groomed homologated courses that are created to support freestyle and in-track events where skiers might apply skate skiing. The sport also features cross-country ski orienteering events licensed by the International Orienteering Federation and ski marathon events licensed by the Worldloppet Ski Federation. Other related forms of competition include the Paralympic cross-country skiing where athletes with disabilities are allowed to compete and also biathlon which is a combination of skiing and rifle shooting.


For centuries, skiing was necessary for chasing the game and gathering firewood during winter time in the snow-covered North. Since most communities were isolated and the region experienced snowy winters, skiing became a significant way of life since it was one of the most important means of keeping in social contact. The term ‘ski’ is a Norwegian word which originates from ‘skid,’ an Old Norse word meaning a length of wood that has been split. Norwegian army units used to ski for sport and got prizes during the 18th century. The techniques used in cross-country skiing evolved from the striding in-track technique to skate-skiing. Skiing equipment has also evolved from wooden poles and skis to those made of polyethylene plastic, fiberglass, and carbon fiber. The first cross-country race on record took place in 1842 while the well-known Holmenkollen ski festival began in 1892 and primarily focused on the Nordic combined event. However, an independent cross-country race was incorporated to the festival in 1901.

The Earliest Forms of Cross-Country Skiing

There are various types of skis that originated from different places almost concurrently. For instance, one form of ski comprised of a horizontal toe-piece binding. Another example known as the East Siberian ski was ideally a thin board comprising of a vertical four-hole binding and it was occasionally wrapped in fur. Modern ski bindings evolved from the 19th century Fennoscandian model. The present-day cross-country ski evolved from the type known as the Lapps which used a horizontal stem-hole binding.

At the Winter Olympics

Once every four years, a major international sporting event known as the Winter Olympics takes place. The first cross-country championship at the Winter Olympics took place in Chamonix, France during the 1924 Winter Olympics. Since the event was in the first Winter Olympics, cross-country skiing is among the first five principle disciplines. However, cross-country events have evolved ever since their debut at the Winter Olympics in 1924. The Women’s cross-country skiing competition at the Winter Olympics debuted in 1952. Four years later the women’s 3x5 km and the men’s 30 km was added to the event. In 1964, the Winter Olympics added the women’s 5km competition, and later on in 1976, the Winter Paralympics added the Paralympic cross-country skiing competition. In 1980, the women’s 20 km competition was added to the Winter Olympics and in 2002 appearance of the mass start and sprint events were held in Salt Lake City.


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