Cross-country skiing World Cup sets equal distances for women, men

Cross-Country Skiing World Cup
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World Cup cross-country skiing races are set to be the same distances for women and men next season after women historically had shorter races outside of sprints.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) cross-country committee, made up of members of national federations, approved the change by a 57 percent vote.

All committee decisions are subject to approval by the FIS council on May 26.

“The main argument to vote for equal distances was that there should not be any question whether women were capable of racing the same distances as men, as they prove that they physically are capable of doing so already,” according to a FIS press release. “The main argument against was the time that women need to cover the same distance as men and the effective TV time.”

Women and men would also race the same distances at junior world championships and the Youth Olympics. FIS will decide next May whether to implement the change at the biennial world championships. Often, changes in sports’ world championships programs precede changes to the Olympic program.

Currently, the Olympic cross-country skiing program has different distances for the interval start race (10km for women, 15km for men), skiathlon (15km for women, 30km for men), mass start (30km for women, 50km for men) and relay (4x5km for women, 4x10km for men).

The new World Cup format will have 10km, 20km and 50km races, plus the skiathlon at 20km. FIS did not say in its release how relay distances will change.

The mass start is particularly notable as it is considered the marathon of winter sports and, like the track and field equivalent, is held on the final weekend of the Olympics. The men’s mass start is actually longer than a marathon (31 miles), while the women’s mass start is 18.6 miles. The men’s race takes about a half-hour longer than the women’s race.

“On principle, it really bothers me a lot,” Jessie Diggins, who took 30km silver at the Beijing Olympics to give her a medal of every color, said last year of the unequal mass start distance, according to On Her Turf. “Not only can we ski 50km, but we can ski more.

“Do we need to race the exact same length? Maybe not. Do we need to race the same amount of time on course? Yeah, I think that’s absolutely reasonable.”

The men’s mass start at the Beijing Winter Games was shortened due to weather to the point that the women’s mass start, which was not shortened, was a longer race by distance. That marked a first in Olympic cross-country skiing history, according to On Her Turf.

Biathlon and short- and long-track speed skating also have shorter distances for women than men in some events on the Olympic program (in biathlon’s case, all events). There are also Olympic men’s events in ski jumping and Nordic combined that do not have a women’s event equivalent.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”