How cross country is scored

Updated: January 29, 2010, 8:09 PM ET
Associated Press

The Associated Press

How cross country is scored in the Olympics:

The premise of cross-country skiing remains as simple as ever -- the fastest skier from start to finish wins -- but the sport's recent transformation to become increasingly TV friendly means the Olympic disciplines today look vastly different than 20 years ago.

These are the different race types in Vancouver:

- Interval start (15K freestyle for men, 10K freestyle for women): This is the traditional race format where the skiers start with 30-second intervals, with the top seeds starting last. Interval starts put each athlete in an individual race against the clock, forcing them to set their own pace from the start and favoring endurance over tactics.

- Mass start (50K classical for men, 30K classical for women): This format was introduced at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and features all skiers lining up for a simultaneous start, with the top seeds on the front line. It makes for more tactical races and often features a thrilling finish with a multi-way sprint to the finish. The 50K and 30K races are seen as the toughest tests in cross-country skiing and therefore the most prestigious.

- Pursuit (30K for men, 15K for women): These mass-start races combine the two different skiing techniques, classical and freestyle. After completing a classical course over the first half, the racers switch skis and change to freestyle for the second part. As with any mass-start race, the top sprinters have an advantage as they can tag along behind others and bide their time for the fight to the finish.

- Relay (4x10K for men, 4x5K for women): This event pits country against country, with four skiers from every nation skiing one leg each. Rather than using a baton as in running, exchanges are made by touching a teammate in the back.

- Individual sprint: A relative newcomer to the sport, the sprint races make for perhaps the greatest TV drama of all cross-country disciplines because of the high pace and frequent crashes that can turn a race on its head. After a qualification round with individual starts, the top 30 skiers advance to five quarterfinal heats with six racers in each and a mass-start format. From there, the top two in each heat advance to the next round, with two more advancing on time. The short races mean it's full go from the start, but with plenty of tactics and jousting for position ahead of the final stretch.

- Team sprint: This is like a shortened version of the classical relay, with teams consisting of two skiers taking turns to complete three laps each around the course -- making an exchange by touching their teammate in the back after each lap. The top five teams from each semifinal advance to the final, where the procedure is repeated.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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