Cross-Country Skiing 101: Competition format

Posted at 2:47 AM, Oct 12, 2021

Listed below are the six cross-country skiing competition formats set to be contended at the 2022 Winter Games.


Men’s distance: 15km
Women’s distance: 10km
Skiing Technique: Classical
Race start format: Interval

Skiers begin the individual events by departing the starting gate one at a time, every 30 seconds. On the course, slower skiers are expected to yield to their faster competitors as they are overtaken, but no matter when a skier crosses the finish line, it’s the time they clock that will determine who leaves with the hardware.


Men’s distance: TBD
Women’s distance: TBD
Skiing Technique: Freestyle
Race start format: Heats

It’s cross-country ski racing, with the twist of a playoff format. A qualification race opens this event with skiers attacking the course one at a time, and the top 30 advancing on to the quarterfinals. Things get interesting in the quarterfinals when the field is divided into groups of six across five heats. 

A total of 10 skiers, the first- and second-place finishers in the quarterfinal heats, plus two lucky losers, will automatically advance to the semifinals. Lucky losers are those skiers with the two best times from the quarterfinal heats, but did not finish in the top two in their races. In two semifinal heats the top two finishers automatically advance to the final, with a shot at winning a medal. Two more lucky losers, those skiers with the fifth- and sixth-fastest semifinal times, also advance to the final. 

Ask any European cross-country fan and they’ll probably describe the atmosphere at a cross-country sprint event as electric. The addition of the event in 2002 during the Salt Lake Olympic Games brought an exciting race to the uninitiated spectators of the West. 

Team Sprint

Men’s distance: TBD
Women’s distance: TBD
Skiing Technique: Classical
Race start format: Mass start 

Teams of two race nearly seven miles for the men and five miles for the women, alternating laps for a total of six laps. The team sprint has a short Olympic history having debuted at the 2006 Torino Olympic Games. The event begins with two semifinal races. The top two finishing teams advance to the final, along with six more lucky losers. 

In Sochi, NBC Olympics' Chad Salmela described the team sprint as “organized torture,” with a start-and-stop format requiring skiers to repeatedly grind it out on the course while their teammate attempts to stay loose for their next go-round until the finish.


Men’s distance: 15km + 15km 
Women’s distance: 7.5km + 7.5km 
Skiing technique: Both classical and freestyle 
Race start format: Mass start 

Skiathlon is a test for athletes in both cross-country skiing techniques, classical and freestyle. It folds these two racing styles into one brutal, contiguous event. The men race back-to-back 15km, while the woman race back-to-back 7.5km, skiing the first half in classical technique and the second using freestyle. 

Something you’ll only see in skiathlon: athletes quickly swap the tackier-waxed classical skis for slipperier freestyle skis midway through the race. Different blends of wax are used for classical racing and freestyle racing, leading to athletes clicking out of one pair of skis and into another before beginning the freestyle stage of the skiathlon. 


Men’s distance: 4x10km 
Women’s distance: 4x5km 
Skiing Technique: Legs 1 & 2 (Classical), Legs 3 & 4 (Freestyle) 
Race start format: Mass start 

In the relay, athletes click into their skis as a team and face off for one of the most sought after cross-country medals at the Olympic Games. The first two legs of the relay are skied using classical technique while the final two are raced using freestyle, requiring teams to carefully set their team lineup. With no way to carry or even pass a baton to the next skier up while holding ski poles, cross-country athletes tag their teammates inside an exchange zone, to make the switch between legs of the race.

Mass Start

Men’s distance: 50km 
Women’s distance: 30km 
Skiing Technique: Freestyle
Race start format: Mass start

Officially known as the men's 50km and women's 30km freestyle race, the start lists for these two events include as many as 50 athletes. The mass start event at the Olympics truly lives up to its name. It is often called the marathon of the winter Olympic Games, but in reality, the men’s race eclipses a marathon’s 26.2-mile span by nearly five miles. Like the marathon at the summer Olympics, the mass starts are held on the final day of the Olympic Games, serving as an exhaustive showcase of endurance after 16 days of Nordic competition.