Sports of the Paralympic Winter Games: Cross-Country Skiing

November 29, 2019

Para cross-country skiing is a snow sport where athletes with physical and vision impairments race long distance across a variety of terrains. The sport made its Paralympic debut at the 1976 Paralympic Winter Games in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden. Finland, Norway and Russia hold the most Paralympic medals for cross-country skiing. Cross-country skiing courses are loops made up of three equal sections of uphill, level and downhill fields. Courses are built for a number of race formats including: sprint, 10km middle, 20km long, mixed relay and open relay in both classic and freestyle. Course distances will vary depending on the event, ranging anywhere between 800m and 5km, which are skied a number of times depending on the race format. The Paralympic Games feature athletes with a wide range of physical impairments so the equipment used varies depending on an athlete’s classification and which technique they are using to ski. Sit-skis are specially fitted chairs atop a pair of skis and are used by athletes with lower limb impairments. These athletes rely entirely on upper body strength when racing. Standing and athletes with vision impairments use skis with boots that are lightweight and attached at the toe to allow flexibility in the heel. Vision impaired skiers ski with a guide.
Also, all athletes can use poles. Para cross-country skiing is made up of 20 different events categorised by athletes competing in standing, sitting and those with vision impairments There are two skiing techniques used in cross-country skiing: Classic technique is where an athlete’s skis remain parallel as they travel along pre-made snow tracks. Skate, or freestyle technique, allows skiers the freedom to carve their own path by pushing off the sides of the skis like ice skates. Results of all Para cross-country skiing competitions are determined soley by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus. To guarantee all athletes compete on a level playing field, a factored timing system is used. Results are calculated by adding a percentage to the athlete’s race time. The percentage is specific to each sport class within each impairment group. Para cross-country skiers give everything they’ve got as they race across difficult snow-covered terrain in the hopes of taking home a medal. Their strength and perseverance proves no obstacle is too big.

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