Four main categories
Racing events can be broken down into four main categories. Sprint, Distance, Classic and Skate. Basically in a Classic race you are not allowed to Skate and in a Skate race you can do anything! Sprint races are short events of 1-3 minutes, usually consisting of a time trial followed by head-to-head finals. Distance races start from around 1km at the junior level and go up to 50km or even longer on the marathon racing circuit. Within these four categories there are different formats.
In an Interval Start event skiers start at timed intervals, typically 30 seconds for distance and 15 seconds for sprint events. The winner is the skier who records the fastest time for the distance. Skiers are usually seeded into different start groups according to their current rank in the event. Normally the best ranked skiers start at the back of the field, so that they can get information on the skiers starting ahead of them and also so that the race builds to an exciting finish.
In a Mass Start event all competitors start and race together, with the winner the first athlete across the finish line. Normally in championship events each class and sex has a separate mass start, however for club events and citizen events such as the Kangaroo Hoppet the entire field starts together. In World Cup and Olympic mass start events the field is arranged in an arrow format with the best-ranked skier at the point of the arrow. Mass starts can make for very tactical and fun racing, and it is not uncommon for these races to be decided in a sprint with multiple skiers lunging for the line.
Distance events are competitions that take normally take place over distances of 5 km to 50 km, but also down to 1 km for junior racers. Race distances vary dependent upon age groups, gender, and the level of competition. They can be conducted using interval start or mass start formats.
A Skiathlon is a mass start competition that involves both classic and freestyle techniques in the one event. Skiers race the first half of the event in classic technique, then make a fast ‘triathlon style’ changing to freestyle poles and skis to allow for the completion of the second half of the event in freestyle technique. The winner is the first athlete across the finish line after both techniques have been completed.
Sprint events involve skiers racing head to head over short distances. Course lengths range from 400m to 1.8km and competitions normally have two sections – a qualification round and then final rounds. The qualification round uses an individual time-trial to rank the skiers for the finals. Then the fastest 16 or 30 skiers compete head to head in heats, semi-finals and finals. Typically 4-6 skiers race together in each heat, with the fastest two skiers progressing through to the next round.
The Team Sprint involves two persons skiing alternate relay legs over a sprint distance. At World Cup and Olympic level each skier completes three laps of the course thus a total of 6 laps as a team. There is a qualification round, usually consisting of two semi-finals of 10-15 teams, and a final of 10 teams made up of a combination of places and times.. Skiers exchange between laps by physically touching their teammate on the body without interfering or obstructing other competitors. The winners are the first team to cross the line after the completion of all laps. Photo courtesy of flying point road.
Relay events involve teams of 3-4 skiers skiing the same distance. A Relay can be held with all legs using in the same technique (freestyle or classic), or a combination of both techniques. Major international competitions usually involve two classic and then two freestyle legs. In an Olympic and World Championship relay each leg of the men's event is 10 km, a total of 40 km for the team, and for the women it is 5 km, a total of 20 km for the team. Even after 40 kilometres of skiing the men's event can often still be decided by a sprint finish.