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10 Things: Cross-Country Skiing

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  1. Cross-country skiing has a bit of an obscure beginning, but experts agree the sport is quite ancient. It is believed to have originated in what is now France as a method of hunting over 22,000 years ago. In present-day China, it is used as transportation. By the time cross-country skiing permeated into Scandinavia, it was bequeathed the current vernacular name of “skiing.” Tax collectors in Norway in the 10th century were actually sent out on skis to collect taxes from laypeople, and  by the 13th century, cross-country skiing was used by troops in war.
  2. Physicists rejoice! Cross-country skiing relies solely on the locomotive ability of the skier to propel themselves using hand-held poles and forward-pushing leg movements, rather than the gravity of downhill skiing and motorized assistance like ski lifts. As a result, cross-country skiing is practiced mainly on flat terrain or small hills.
  3. Much like sprints and distance running, cross-country skiing races have varying lengths, ranging from a 1.5-kilometre sprint to a 50-kilometre marathon. Events can be individual races or team-driven relays.
  4. Cross-country skiing became an Olympic sport in 1924  at the inagrual Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France. Events in the Olympic repertoire have since expanded to include team relay, separate classical, and freestyle races. Cross-country skiing is the only event present at every single Winter Olympic games. 41,000 athletes identify themselves as cross-country skiers worldwide, lending to the growing popularity of the sport.
  5. Different types of cross-country skiing exist, with different types of skis needed for each. The two most popular categories of cross-country skiing are classical, using poles and skis in a linear fashion within constrained track parameters; and freestyle, employing skating-like techniques with skis used as a type of long blade to gain momentum across terrain.
  6. The Globe and Mail reports that the benefits of cross-country skiing outweigh almost every other type of exercise. Skiers have almost twice the cardiovascular and muscular fitness than other athletic individuals, and skiers have the lowest mortality risk of the entire population.
  7. Raisa Smetanina, a cross-country skier from the former Soviet Union, is currently tied for the most Olympic medals won by a woman at the Winter Olympics (her last Olympics was in 1992). She was the first woman to win 10 medals, and at the time of her last medal, she was the oldest woman to ever win a Winter Olympic gold at 39 years old. The torch was passed onto Stefania Belmondo of Italy who tied the Russian powerhouse with 10 gold medals won—her medal torrent commencing the same year Smetanina won her last gold.
  8. Whilst cross-country skiing is pretty contingent upon snowfall, avid skiers have found a technique to continue dry-land training. Invented in Italy, roller skiing is the tarmac equivalent of cross-country skiing. Wheels are attached to the ends of the skis, allowing for a similar technique to snow skiing. Roller skiing has developed into a sport in its own right, with competitions popular in Northern Europe.
  9. The biathlon is built upon cross-country skiing, with the added element of shooting to create a new event. The most decorated Winter Olympian in history, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway, has won 13 medals in the biathlon. Interestingly, Norwegian cross-country skiers Bjorn Daehlie and Marit Bjorgen rank as the second- and third-most decorated men in Winter Olympic history, with 12 and 10 medals respectively.
  10. Cross-country skiing was introduced as one of four Special Olympics snow sports in 1977. Canada has a strong Special Olympics cross-country skiing program in place, with offerings ranging in location from Nova Scotia to Alberta, to Yukon. 

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