by Alicia Dziak

Only one more week until the XXII Olympic Winter Games kick off in Sochi, Russia!

The Olympics offer something for everyone — whether you’re an athlete or not, who doesn’t love a little international competition among the world’s finest athletes? The bonus is that they’re competing in sports we don’t usually get to watch live. Cross-country skiing, popular in Western New York, plays a big role in some of these competitions.

Cross-Country Skiing

According to the U.S. Ski Team’s website, “Cross country is organized into two techniques: classical, 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. Classic technique is the original, ancient method of skiing. Free technique is more modern, having been pioneered by U.S. Ski Team member Bill Koch in the early ‘80s, and is slightly faster than classical — almost 10% faster on average.”

Men’s cross-country skiing was part of the first Winter Olympics in 1924 and women’s was added in 1952. Several  events make up this discipline — individual races, mass start races, the skiathlon, the relay, and individual and team sprints, all for both men and women.

In the individual race, the skiers start at 30-second intervals. In the mass start race, all skiers start at the same time.

In the skiathlon, skiers race the first half of the course on classic technique skis, including boots similar to racing boots, and poles that extend to around the armpit of the athlete. The skier then must exchange them for skating skis and the stiffer boots and longer poles that can extend to the athlete’s chin. The time used to change skis is part of the total time for each athlete.

The relay is comprised of four-person teams, in which the first and second legs are skied using the classic technique, and the third and fourth using free technique.

The individual sprint events begin with a qualifying round and end with six skiers competing for the gold medal in the final round.

Cross-country skiing events are scheduled for Feb. 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, 22 and 23.


The biathlon, introduced into the Olympics in 1960, combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.

Several biathlon events make up this discipline in the Winter Olympics — individual, sprint, pursuit, mass start race, and mass start relay for both men and women, as well as a mixed relay made up of two men and two women. Competitions include various lengths of ski races interspersed with bouts of shooting. If targets are missed, various penalties are incurred.

In pursuit competitions, the start order and intervals are based on the results of the sprint competition. The winner of the sprint competition starts first, and so on.

Relay competitions include four members per team, with racers switching in the handover zone where team members need to touch hands. In the mixed relay, the order of racers is female, female, male, male.

In mass start races, athletes start simultaneously.

Biathlon events are scheduled for Feb. 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 21 and 22.

Nordic Combined

Nordic Combined individual events have been part of the Olympic program since the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924, with the team events joining the lineup in 1988. It is the only men-only discipline in the Winter Olympics.

Nordic Combined events combine ski jumping and a 10 km cross-country ski race.

Men’s events include the individual event with a normal hill ski jump, the individual event with a large hill ski jump, and the team event, with two jumps from the large hill and a relay.

The individual event, also known as the Gundersen race, takes place in two stages: first, the jump, and second, the race, where the skiers with the most ski jumping points start first, followed by the next best jumper after a gap that reflects the difference in their jumping scores. The Gold goes to the first athlete to cross the finish line.

The team event is similar to the individual event, except that teams of four compete.

Nordic Combined events are scheduled for Feb. 12, 18 and 20.

Sources: www.sochi2014.com and www.nordic.usskiteam.com.