Cross country involves two different skiing techniques: classic and freestyle. The classic technique is the traditional one: the skis are kept parallel and never abandon or deviate from the two tracks marked on the course. The freestyle technique allows the skier to choose a style similar to skating, pushing the skis from both legs. Gripping wax is generally applied to the skis to prevent them from slipping backwards on the uphill sections.
The cross-country discipline comprises twelve different cross-country skiing events. Three events are the same as Salt Lake 2002 - the 10/15km classic individual start, the four-person relays, and the sprint freestyle.
The format of the pursuit has changed, with the distance increasing to 30km (15km each leg) for men and 15km (7.5km each leg) for women, and there is now a pitstop to change equipment from classic to freestyle between the two legs. The race starts with a mass start in classic technique.
The team sprint was a totally new event in Turin. This involves two-person teams, each skiing the course three times in classic technique.
To make room for the team sprint, the individual 30km (men) and 15km (women) mass start events have been dropped from the Olympic schedule. However the 50km and 30km events have been chaned to mass start, and will be held in freestyle technique. So the events are:
Sprint (1.5km freestyle for men and women)
The sprint is the shortest event on the cross country program and any style of skiing is permitted. Sprint events begin with a qualifying round and the top skiers advance to a knockout phase, with quarter-finals, semi-finals and an A and B final.
Pursuit (15km women, 30km men)
The men’s and women’s pursuit race features two parts. From a mass start, the athletes race in the classical style (7.5km women, 15km men). During a pit stop on half way, the athletes change equipment from the classical to free technique. The second part is a freestyle race (7.5km women, 15km men), with competitors starting the freestyle portion staggered according to their finish in the classical. The athlete who crosses the finish line first wins.
Interval Start (classical - 10km women, 15km men)
In the classic events competitors start at 30 second intervals and the winner is the skier with the fastest time.
Team Sprint classical
There are two skiers per team, each of whom skis the course three times. The event has around 20 teams, with two heats of 10 teams. The top five teams in each heat advance to the final. The team sprint is run on the same course as the individual sprint and held in the Classic technique.
Relays (4x5km women, 4x10km men)
Each team has four skiers, each of whom skis one of the four 5km (women) or 10km (men) relay legs. The first two legs of the relay are skied classical style and the final two are freestyle.
Mass Start (freestyle - 30km women, 50km men)
Competitors start simultaneously, lined up in rows. The first competitor across the finish line wins the race.