2018 Winter Olympics: Understanding cross-country skiing

One of the oldest sports in the Winter Games returns

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Cross-country skiing is skiing where motion is achieved through the athletes' own movements, instead of using gravity to pull one down a slope.

Cross-country skiing is an evolution of the earliest form of skiing, which was used as a means to travel over snow nearly 5,000 years ago in Scandinavia. Early skiers would use sticks or poles to propel themselves over the snow. The earliest use of a ski pole dates back to 1741. 

Cross-country skiing has been held at every Winter Olympic Games since the first in 1924. It's no surprise that the sport returns to the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, with the event taking place at the Alpensia Cross-Country Centre. There are 12 events this year, seven men's and five women's. 

Individual sprint

Men's date: Feb. 13, 5:30 p.m.
Women's date: Feb. 13, 8 p.m.

Here's how it works:

This year's sprint event starts with a qualification race, where skiers ski the course one at a time. Skiers race along a course that is 1.4 kilometers for men and 1.2 kilometers for women. Races typically take around three minutes, and the top 30 skiers advance to the next round. Twelve skiers progress from the quarterfinals to the next round, including two players who had the best times, but did not did not finish in the the top two of their races. 

The final round is played with the top two finishers in addition to two more players with the best times who did not finish in the top two. The short length of the course makes it one of the faster moving cross-country skiing sports.

Team sprint

Men's date: Feb. 21, 7 p.m.
Women's date: Feb. 21, 5 p.m.

Here's how it works:

Two-person teams race 1.8 kilometers for the men and 1.3 kilometers for the women. Each skier will ski six laps, alternating after skiing two laps. First team that crosses the finish line wins. 

Individual start

Men's date: Feb. 16, 3 p.m.
Women's date: Feb. 15, 3:30 p.m.

Here's how it works:

Using a staggered start where each skier starts every 30 seconds, this race determines the winner by the skier's time, rather than who crosses the finish line first. The course is 15 kilometers long for men and 10 kilometers for women, with races lasting approximately 40 minutes and 30 minutes, respectively.

Mass start

Men's date: Feb. 24, 2 p.m.
Women's date: Feb. 24, 3:15 p.m.

Here's how it works:

Longer than a typical marathon, this is a 50 kilometer race for men and 30 kilometer race for women. Held on the last day of the Winter Games, races can last up to approximately two hours long. A recent addition after first appearing in 2002's Winter Games in Salt Lake City, this exhausting event is a testament to the for endurance of the world's best athletes


Men's date: Feb. 11, 3:15 p.m.
Women's date: Feb. 10, 4:15 p.m.

Here's how it works:

Another exhausting event for the skiers, this race is 22.5 kilometers long for women and 30 kilometers for men. In addition to switching between classical and freestyle skiing techniques, athletes have also been known to swap skis before going into the freestyle wing of the event, with the new skis being waxed differently for the different style.


Men's date: Feb. 18, 3:15 p.m.
Women's date: Feb. 17, 6:30 p.m.

Here's how it works:

Another event that combines classical and freestyle techniques, this event plays like a typical relay; however, due to the use of ski poles, contestants are unable to carry a baton, so team members tag their team mates to make the switch. Each team has four athletes, with men skiing 10 kilometers before switching and women skiing 5 kilometers. The first team to have someone cross the finish line wins.