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Medal events: 12Athletes: 310Dates: 8–23 February
Cross-country skiing has been contested at every edition of the Olympic Winter Games, dating back to 1924, and the Sochi 2014 programme will feature 12 events (six for men and six for women) ranging from a 1.5km sprint to the 50km (men) and 30km (women) mass start races. Two techniques – classic and freestyle – are used across the events, depending on the race format. In the traditional classic form, skis are kept parallel and never abandon or deviate from the two grooved tracks marked out in the snow, while the freestyle technique allows the skier to choose a style similar to skating, pushing the skis from both legs.
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Poland’s reigning 30km classical Olympic champion Justyna Kowalczyk is again expected to challenge for medals in the women’s events, having claimed the 2012/13 overall World Cup title. Her rivals will include Norway’s three-time Olympic gold medallist Marit Bjørgen and Therese Johaug. In the men’s events, Norway’s double Olympic gold medallist Petter Northug will be looking to follow up his overall 2013 World Cup title with more success in Sochi. The 28-year-old, who won 50km classical and team sprint titles in Vancouver, has already enjoyed success on the Sochi cross-country course, having won the sprint event there during last year’s World Cup event. Switzerland’s Dario Cologna and Sweden’s Johan Olsson are also likely to challenge for medals, alongside home favourite Nikita Kriukov.
Cross-country skiing has produced some of the most successful Winter Olympians of all time, including Norwegian Bjørn Dæhlie who, with 12 medals, has won more Winter Olympic medals than any other athlete. Dæhlie’s eight gold medals are also more than any other Winter Olympian, making him one of the true legends of the Olympic Winter Games. He won his first Olympic titles in Albertville in 1992, claiming gold in the 10/15km freestyle pursuit and 50km freestyle, as well as being part of the winning team for the 4x10km relay. Two years later, in Lillehammer, Dæhlie won the 10km classical style and the 15km freestyle pursuit, while also finishing second in the 30km freestyle and the 4x10km relay. At his final Games in 1998, Dæhlie defended his 10km classical style title, while also winning gold in the 50km freestyle and the 4x10km relay.
Dæhlie’s rival and compatriot Thomas Alsgaard also enjoyed great success at the Games, winning five gold medals and one silver between 1994 and 2002. In the women’s events, Russia’s Raisa Smetanina and Italy’s Stefania Belmondo each have 10 Olympic medals to their names, while Russian Lyubov Yegorova won six gold medals across the 1992 and 1994 Winter Games.