There is no older form of skiing than cross-country, and the classic sport is again likely to be dominated by Norway at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
At the 2021 World Championships, the Norwegians won all but one of the men’s events and only missed out on two golds in the women’s competitions. Given the fact that cross-country is their national sport - and that it originated there - it is no surprise they are so dominant.
A form of cross-country seems to have first appeared in the 1700s, when it was used as a form of competition in the military and a public event was first recorded in Tromso in 1843. It has been part of the Olympic schedule since the very first Winter Games in 1924 but women’s events were not added until 1952.
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The most successful Olympic nation in the sport is easily Norway, with 121 medals in total - 41 more than nearest challenger, and neighbours, Sweden. No British cross-country skier has ever reached the podium. The sport also has the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time in Marit Bjorgen, who has 15 medals in total.
In the men’s competition, Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo is the big star. The 25-year-old won three gold medals at Pyeongchang 2018 and goes into the Games in Beijing having repeated that trick at the World Championships, winning titles in the sprint, team sprint and the 4x10km relay.
His Norwegian team-mate Terese Johaug is a controversial athlete who has served a ban for doping which meant she was not able to compete at the 2018 Games. The three-time Olympic medallist is back to her best now, having won four golds at the World Championships.
Fitness permitting, Britain will have three athletes at the 2022 Games in Beijing - with Andrew Young going to his fourth Olympics, where he will be joined by long-time friend Andrew Musgrave - who achieved Team GB’s best ever finish in Pyeongchang - and up and coming skier, James Clugnet.

Team GB participants and medal prospects

Andrew Musgrave achieved Britain’s best ever cross-country finish at a Winter Olympics when he came seventh in the skiathlon at Pyeongchang 2018. He has since finished with three top 10 finishes at the World Championships earlier this year.
He will be going to his fourth Games, as will Andrew Young, who achieved a second placed finish in the sprint competition at a World Cup event December 2020 and will have an outside shot at a medal if everything goes right for him on the day.
James Clugnet is the new kid on the block. Born and raised in the French Alps and representing Team GB through his British mother, he has made dramatic improvements over the past few years and demonstrated his potential by finishing 8th in qualifying for one of the World Cup events in November.
But Norway are the team to beat. Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo will be defending three titles in Beijing, in the individual sprint, team sprint and 4x10km relay. Emil Iversen looks like the man in form in the 50km mass start following his victory at the World Championships.
Terese Johaug is back to her best having claimed four golds at those events, but she is not a universally popular figure having served a doping ban for taking banned substance Clostebol, an anabolic steroid. She has always denied wrongdoing and said it came from a product she was using to treat sore lips and was given to her by the team doctor - who said he did not notice a label which said it would be banned for competition. It later transpired he used to work for the company that made it, Pfizer, raising doubts about the explanation.
Regardless, Johaug is back now and is the woman to beat. Sweden’s Jonna Sundling will have something to say about that though, having claimed the sprint and team titles at the Worlds.

Cross-country skiing events and format

296 athletes will compete in cross-country skiing in Beijing, 148 each in the men’s and women’s competition. Skiers traditionally compete across almost all of the disciplines, even though some are sprint events and others are above a marathon distance.
The races are:
Men
  • 15 km Classic
  • 15 km + 15 km Skiathlon
  • Sprint Free
  • Team Sprint Classic
  • 4x10 km Relay
  • 50 km Mass Start Free
Women
  • 10 km Classic
  • 7.5 km + 7.5 km Skiathlon
  • Sprint Free
  • Team Sprint Classic
  • 4x5 km Relay
  • 30 km Mass Start Free
There are two different cross-country skiing techniques which athletes must use when specified by organisers, and these can vary from Games to Games. There is the classic technique - where athletes stride forward - and the freestyle technique - where they go side to side. Both techniques are required during the relay.

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Who won the last Olympic golds in cross-country skiing?

Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo won the most gold medals compared to any other cross-country skier in Pyeongchang, claiming the individual sprint title, the team sprint with Martin Johnsrud Sundby and the 4x10km relay with Sundby, Simen Hegstad Kruger and Didrik Tonseth.
Kruger also claimed victory in the 30km skiathlon, Finland’s Iivo Niskanen won gold in the 50km mass start and the 15km freestyle went to Switzerland’s Dario Cologna.
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In the women’s competitions, golds were split a bit more evenly. Ragnhild Haga, who has since been dropped from the Norway team, won the 10km freestyle and the 4 x 5km relay with Ingvild Flugstad Ostberg, Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen and Marit Bjorgen - the record Winter Olympic medal winner who also picked up the 30km mass start gold.
Sweden’s Stina Nilsson won the individual sprint, but team sprint went to the American pair of Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins, while Charlotte Kalla of Sweden claimed the skiathlon title.

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What is the mass start in cross country skiing and what is the format?

Unless it is stated that there is a mass start, athletes do not directly race against each other. Instead, they set off in intervals every 30 seconds and race the clock, with the fastest skier winning the gold.
In the team sprint, athletes alternate 6 runs over 1.4km for men and 1.25km for women, with the quickest combined time winning the title.
Skiathlon combines two styles of cross-country - skate skiing, which looks like ice skating on skis, and the more traditional style. The times of both runs are combined to find the winner.
The mass start, which is used for the longest distance events, is the most straight forward of the formats - all athletes begin at the same time in a race to the finish.

How long is the cross-country skiing distance at the Olympics?

There are lots of different distances, depending on the event. The ‘sprint’ is actually 1400m for the men and 1200m for women - this is roughly the same for the team event, although athletes have to do this three times each with the pairs alternating their run.
The skiathlon combines two separate disciplines, skate skiing and classic, with two sets of 15km for the men and two sets of 7.5km for the women.
Mass start races are the longest - 50km for men and 30km for women, while the relay is 4x10km for men and 4x5km for women.

What sport combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting?

This is biathlon, where athletes race cross-country but have to stop at shooting ranges, half in the standing position and half prone. If they miss, they either have to race extra distance, or a time penalty is added on - this depends on the event.
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