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. Bolton 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. Murray and Bottomley continued their Olympic careers in Vancouver in 2010 along with teammate Ben Sim.
The Sochi 2014 Games saw Bottomley join Anthony Evans (1992, 1994, 1998) as Australia’s only three-time Cross Country Skiing Olympians. She was joined on the Russian slopes by brother and sister duo Aimee and Callum Watson as well as Phil Bellingham.
Australia took its largest ever cross country skiing team to PyeongChang 2018. The Watson siblings and Bellingham 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 Free. The result matches Chris Heberle’s 33rd place finish in the 15km Classic event at the Calgary 1988 Games and beats the previous best by an Australian female which had been held by Colleen Bolton (35th - 10km Classic, 1980). She then joined forces with Yeaton to secure Australia’s best ever Team Sprint result of 12th place.
Cross country 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 format of cross country at the Olympics happened 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 staggers. In Salt Lake City, the new Sprint event (approximately 1.5 km) was also offered for the first time in the Olympic Games.
There are now 12 cross country events on the 2014 Olympic program (6 men’s and 6 women’s) ranging from a 1.5km sprint to the 50km (men)/ 30km (women) mass start.
Cross country has proven particularly successful for the Scandinavians and Russians.
Skiathlon (30km men, 15km women) (C&F)
Formerly known as pursuit, skiathlon is the cross country event for all rounders. It combines both classical and freestyle techniques meaning there are more tactics involved in the 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- ladies cover 7.5km (in loops of 2.5 km) and men complete 15km (in loops of 3.75 km). Athletes then use dedicated changing boxes in the stadium to switch skis and often poles. The second half of the race (7.5km for women and 15km for men) is raced using the free technique.
Individual Sprint Free (1.6km men, 1.4km women)
The individual sprint competition consists of a qualification round and four final rounds: quarter-final, semifinal, A and B finals. For the qualification round, competitors start in 15-second intervals skiing one lap of the course. The top 30 competitors advance to the quarter-finals. The quarter-final, semifinal, and A and B final rounds have six skiers in each heat. The top two competitors from each heat advance to the next round. The A final consists of six skiers competing for the gold medal. The course laps are 1.4km for ladies and 1.6km for men.
Classic (15km men, 10km women)
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. The women’s event is 10km and the men’s event is 15km.
Relay (4x10km men, 4x5km women) (C&F)
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.
Team Sprint Classic
The team sprint competition consists of two semifinal heats (qualification) 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 the completion of all six laps. There are two semifinal heats, with a total of 10 to 15 teams competing. The top three from each heat will advance, and the next four fastest teams will advance. The course laps are 1.4 kilometres for ladies and 1.6 kilometres for men.
Mass Start Free (50km men, 30km women)
The Mass Start is the longest event on the cross country program. Competitors start simultaneously, lined up in rows. The first competitor across the finish line wins the race.