The gruelling discipline of cross country skiing involves racing over undulating terrain along a series of prepared tracks. Skiers set off at intervals and race against the clock rather than against each other, with the exception of the pursuit-style races.
There are two styles of cross-country skiing: classic and freestyle.
In classic races, skiers use the traditional straight-striding technique (called a “diagonal stride”) and do not deviate from distinct parallel tracks. From 1924 through 1984, only the classic technique was used in Olympic cross-country competition.
The freestyle technique, which is often referred to as “skating,” has no restrictions. The athletes do not keep their skis within narrow tracks but instead push off with both legs in a motion that resembles skating. Freestyle races, which usually are faster than classic races, have been part of the Olympic program since 1988.