Cross-Country Skiing

User Peter Larsson of Sweden practices in the Cross Country Skiing training
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Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026


Cross-Country Skiing

This is the oldest mode of skiing. Originating in northern European countries due to the need to travel long distances across snowy terrain, it evolved into a sport in the late 19th century. As we look forward to Milano Cortina 2026, here is everything you need to know.



At the Milano Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics, there will be 12 cross-country skiing races. For the first time in history, men and women will race over the same distances:

  • 10 + 10 km skiathlon (men and women)
  • Sprint (men and women)
  • Freestyle team sprint (men and women)
  • Relay 4x7.5 km (men and women)
  • 10 km freestyle (men and women)
  • 50 km classical technique (men and women)

The races will be held in Tesero, in Val di Fiemme, at the Tesero Cross-Country Skiing Stadium


Picture of Tesero. Click on the image to discover more about the area.


Cross-country skiing originated long ago. The word ‘ski’ comes from the Old Norse ‘skid’ or ‘long piece of wood’. For centuries in northern European countries, skis were used to hunt and gather firewood in winter. With long distances between small, isolated communities and harsh, snowy winters, skiing also became important as a means of maintaining social contacts. In the late 19th century, cross-country skiing evolved into a sport and was practiced by Norwegian army units. The first documented official competition dates to 1842. The event that brought cross-country skiing to prominence throughout Europe was the Greenland crossing by Fridtjof Nansen in 1888. The famous Holmenkollen ski festival began in 1892, and from the beginning all attention was focused on the Nordic combined event. In 1901, however, a separate cross-country skiing race was added to the programme.

Olympic History

The sport, which was immediately popular, has been an Olympic disciplines since the first Winter Games in Chamonix in 1924 with men's competitions. Women's competitions were added at Oslo in 1952. The Norwegians initially dominated, later joined by Swedish, Finnish and Russian athletes.

Basic Rules

Cross-country skiing is divided by technique: classical and freestyle. In the classical technique, the skier glides along tracks etched in the snow, while in the freestyle technique (also called "’skate’),the skier makes lateral movements relative to the direction of travel.
Each race at the Olympics is done in both classical or free technique.

For the Milano Cortina 2026 Olympics, the events have the following format: in the 10 km + 10 km skiathlon, the athletes start all together in a line. They use both techniques in the same race. At the halfway point in the stadium, the athletes change from classical to freestyle. The first athlete to reach the finish line wins. In the 50 km mass start classic, the athletes start all together in a line. The first athlete to reach the finish line wins. In the 4 x 7.5 km relay, the teams start all together in a line. A team consists of four athletes, each of which covers the same distance. The first team to reach the finish line wins. In the classical sprint, the race starts with a qualifying individual and the athletes start 15” apart. The 30 fastest athletes reach the quarter finals, which consist of 5 groups of 6 athletes each. The top two in each group plus the two athletes with the fastest times reach the two semifinals of 6 athletes each. In the freestyle team sprint, the athletes start individually at 30” intervals. The final consists of a series of 15 teams. A team consists of two athletes that pass the baton three times.

Curiosities about Italian Championships

Cross-country skiing is a sport in which Italy has built its own identity step by step, starting as an absolute outsider in the 1960s and achieving exciting results over the last 50 years in every race format, both in individual events and relays. Manuela di Centa and Stefania Belmondo have been among the most successful female Olympians in Italy, and Federico Pellegrino is the most recent addition to the list of accomplished male athletes.

But the history of Italian Olympic medals in cross-country skiing began back in 1968, when Franco Nones became the first Italian to win an Olympic medal in the discipline. On February 7 of that year at the Games in Grenoble, Franco triumphed in the 30-km race, breaking the dominance of Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish athletes. The sports newspaper L'Equipe understood the historical importance of this event and wrote on 8 February 1968, ‘Franco Nones, like Christopher Columbus, discovered America’.

The athlete, originally from Val di Fiemme, became one of the founding fathers of a sports movement that would take root in Italy thanks to his vision and passion.

In today’s Winter Olympic sports hall of fame, cross-country skiing is a discipline in which Italy has won some of the most medals (36 out of 141). This is also thanks to the decisive contribution of Franco Nones.


Here are the answers to your questions.

  • Which male athlete has won the most medals for cross-country skiing at the Olympic Games?

  • Which female athlete has won the most medals for cross-country skiing at the Olympic Games?

  • Which countries have won the most medals at the Olympics?

  • Who are the Italian Olympic cross-country skiing champions?

  • Where will the cross-country ski competitions at Milano Cortina 2026 take place?

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