Pyeongchang 2018

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The ultimate Winter Games fitness test – five reasons to follow cross-country skiing

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08:  (BROADCAST - OUT) Pita Taufatofua of Tonga poses for a photo on the NBC Today show set at Copacabana Beach on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The marathon men and women of the Olympic Winter Games, cross-country skiing is perhaps the ultimate fitness test…

A breath of fresh air

Cross-country skiers are unbelievably fit and have an astonishing lung capacity. Some of the world’s best boast the highest-ever recorded V02 max in the history of any sport. Bjørn Dæhlie has been recorded as high as 96, with the sport’s leading athletes usually only matched by professional cyclists past and present.

Iron Lady’s medal target

Marit Bjørgen is already the most successful Winter Olympian with six gold medals to her name in the sport and 10 medals in all. At 37, she has the chance to be the most successful Winter Olympian of all time in terms of golds as she aims to beat the current record of eight golds held by Bjørn Dæhlie and Ole Einar Bjørndalen. Bjørgen has described such an achievement as a “dream rather than a goal”. Understandably because of her success on the snow and the steely reserve, the Norwegian has become known as ‘The Iron Lady’.

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The topless Tongan

The sport does not lack for its own feel-good stories and the build-up to PyeongChang has been no different. Pita Taufatofua was one of the more eye-catching athletes and stories in Rio de Janeiro when the Tongan taekwondo star opted to appear at the opening ceremony topless, in traditional dress and with his upper body heavily oiled. Since those Games, he has set himself on a quest to qualify for the Pacific Island nation at the Winter as well as Summer Games.

Super Dario

Among the more established names, there are no shortage of characters, including Swiss star Dario Cologna, a two-time gold medallist at Sochi 2014. The three-time Olympic champion’s talents have earned him the nickname ‘Super Dario’. It warranted a stand-out but bizarre interview with one television network in which he dressed up like computer character Super Mario to clean out toilets at a local hotel, go karting on local roads and do his best Super Mario impression.

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Variety is the spice of life

The sport doesn’t lack for variety either. At PyeongChang 2018, there will be a total of six medals on offer for both the men and women. There are two styles of competition: classical and freestyle. The former sees competitors ski almost in a running fashion on pre-cut courses, while with freestyle they ski in more of a V shape, akin to skating. Events also vary from sprints to team relays and the marathon 50km mass start.


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