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.
Four Australian athletes have placed in the 30-40th place range in individual events including Australia’s first female competitor Colleen Bolton. Colleen 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 2006 Games.
They were also joined by Paul Murray. Paul and Esther continued their Olympic careers at Vancouver in 2010 with teammate Ben Sim.
The Sochi 2014 Games saw Esther equal Anthony Evans as Australia’s only three-time cross-country skiing Olympians. She was joined on the Russian slopes by Phil Bellingham and brother and sister duo Aimee and Callum Watson.
Australia took its largest ever cross-country skiing team to PyeongChang 2018. Phil and the Watson siblings returned for their second Games, joining Olympic debutants Casey Wright and Jessica Yeaton. Dual Olympian for Slovenia Barbara Jezersek made her debut in the green and gold and equalled Australia’s best ever Olympic cross-country result with 33rd in the women’s 10km. The result matches Chris Heberle’s 33rd place finish in the 15km classic at the Calgary 1988 Games and beats the previous best by an Australian female which had been held by Colleen (35th - 10km Classic, 1980). Barbara then joined forces with Jessica to secure Australia’s best ever team sprint result of 12th place.
Cross-country akiing appeared at the inaugural Olympic Winter Games in 1924 and stayed relatively unchanged until the women’s events were introduced in 1952.
The most important change to the cross-country skiing format came at the 1988 Games in Calgary, when new freestyle technique events were introduced to complement the classic technique. This enabled skiers to use a style similar to skating (pushing the skis from both legs) in addition to the classic form where skis stay parallel and do not deviate from the grooved tracks marked out in the snow.
A mass start event was introduced in Salt Lake City in 2002, a significant change from the original start where athletes took off on 30 second intervals. In Salt Lake City a new sprint event was also offered for the first time in the Olympic Games.
Women's 10km Classic and Men's 15km Classic
A competitor starts at every 30-second interval with the best-ranked skiers starting at the end. Skiers race against the clock and the winner is the competitor with the quickest time.
Women's 7.5km + 7.5km Skiathlon and Men's 15km + 15km Skiathlon
Skiathlon combines both classical and freestyle techniques, meaning there are more tactics involved in Skiathlon than in regular mass start races. Competitors start simultaneously, lined up in an arrow format with the best ranked skiers at the front.
The first half of the race is completed using a classical technique. Athletes then use dedicated changing boxes in the stadium to switch skis and often poles. The second half of the race is raced using the free technique. Ladies complete three 2.5km loops and men complete four 3.75km loops.
Women's 30km Mass Start Free and Men's 50km Mass Start Free
Athletes start in a mass start lined up in rows according to previous International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup results, with the best athletes starting in the first positions. The first competitor across the finish line wins the race.
Women's 4×5km Relay and Men's 4×10km Relay
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.
Teams start in a mass start lined up in rows according to their results from the previous FIS World Championships.
Women's Sprint Free and Men's Sprint Free
The Sprint event includes qualifying, quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final.
Individual time trials begin qualifying on the course, with a 15 second interval start for each skier. The fastest 30 athletes advance to the quarter-finals - which consist of five heats with six athletes in each.
The top two finishers in each quarter-final heat, and the two fastest athletes from the quarter-finals that did not place first or second in their heat, advance to the semi-finals.
There are two semi-finals of six athletes each. The top two finishers in each semi-final heat, and the two fastest athletes from the semi-finals that did not place first or second in their heat, advance to the final of six athletes.
Women's Team Sprint Classic and Men's Team Sprint Classic
The team sprint competition consists of two semi-final heats 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 completing all six laps.
There are two semi-finals and 10 teams will qualify for the final. The top four in each semi-final automatically qualify for the final and then the 2 fastest teams outside the top four will progress to the final.