Cross-country skiing: What makes the winner?

Physiologist explains what skills top runners need to bring to Vancouver

Cross-country skiers on the track © Markus Bernet / CC-by-sa 2.0
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What makes a cross-country skier a winner? Which runners will benefit most from the tracks in Vancouver - the technicians or the powerhorses? This is exactly what a Norwegian physiologist has examined. According to the skaters, especially the technicians could benefit, in the runners in the classical style are the "stayer" on the slopes, although in the advantage, the flat sections but the "sprinters" benefit.

Cross-country skiing is considered one of the most demanding disciplines of the Winter Olympics. The athletes catapult with each step forward and reach speeds of 20 to 25 kilometers per hour - over distances of up to 50 kilometers. Despite these enormous distances, at the end of the race it is often enough for only one tip of the lead to win or place, so close are the performances in the field. But what ultimately decides about gold, silver or bronze?

Physiologist Øyvind Sandbakk of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has studied this more closely. He compared metabolic rates, technique and race sequences of numerous cross-country skiers to get an insight into the factors that make the race important.

"Skiers need high levels of aerobic and anaerobic energy, muscle power, efficient technology and the ability to resist fatigue in order to race at top speeds, " explains Sandbakk. At first glance, these physical achievements did not differ from those of other world-class athletes. Cross-country skiers, Sandbakk says, also have to master a variety of techniques and use them at the right moment to respond to the terrain.

Vancouver: chances for "Sprinter" and "Stayer"

This means that, depending on distance and terrain, runners with different physical strengths have advantages or disadvantages. For example, the short runs of the ten and fifteen-kilometer runs that will take place in Vancouver from Monday onwards will meet the athletes who, above all, have strong aerobic power. They manage best to maintain high speeds even on slopes, so the researchers. The field of skiers therefore usually pulls apart on such climbs further. However, as the Vancouver routes also include shallow sections, opportunities could also open up for athletes with higher muscle mass and more anaerobic power reserves. display

Skating: technology and perseverance crucial

For the skating races, Sandbakken sees the technicians under the front runners as the tracks of the winter games are technically very demanding. When skating, the athletes constantly change between seven different ways of running, similar to switching to different gears in a car. The best skiers have very long cycles the distance traveled per double step, but towards the end of the race the cycle frequency is higher for the best riders than for the other, says Sandbakken.

In the final meters, it is above all the stamina and ability to resist fatigue, says the sports physiologist. The body has to be able to quickly recover from the tremendous load of pressure after each step. The ability to withstand fatigue is closely tied to the perseverance of techniques and the cycle lengths and frequencies of a race, Sand explains Sandbakkk, For two skiers of otherwise the same fitness, this factor decides in the final meters who will win the gold.

(The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), 12.02.2010 - DLO)