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It looks simple, but it’s incredibly intricate to get a sled going and keep it upright for the ride down the track. Everyone sprints while pushing the sled on ice, then hops inside, at which point the driver is typically the only one with his or her head up for the rest of the trip. One wrong move, and that sled could tumble on its side easily.
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Steven Holcomb of the United States was the top driver on the men’s World Cup circuit this winter, while Kaillie Humphries of Canada took the women’s overall title. Both won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games and might again this year. The U.S. has two Olympic track athletes on the women’s team, with gold medalist Lauryn Williams and Lolo Jones qualifying as push athletes.
DID YOU KNOW?
BMW doesn’t just make fast cars. Their sled-building business will be on full display in Sochi, with Germans, Americans and Canadians — all medal favorites — among the nations racing in their sleds. And while those sleds bear the same logo, there’s some significant set-up and technological differences depending on which nation’s flag is affixed.
Cross-country skiing is one of the original Winter Olympic sports, on the program since the 1924 Chamonix Games. Only two men’s events were held then, though; now it’s a total of 10 men’s and women’s races — ranging from the explosive individual sprint to the grueling endurance test of the men’s 50-kilometer race. Events are held in either the classical style or freestyle depending on the format, with the skiathlon a combination of both.
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Norway usually dominates the cross-country skiing events, and its two biggest stars are Petter Northug and Marit Bjoergen. Northug has struggled with illness this season, however, and his form is in question. Bjoergen won three golds in Vancouver in 2010 and could well repeat that feat in Sochi if she again gets the better of main rival Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland. Three-time overall World Cup winner Dario Cologna has only recently returned from an ankle injury but should still be a contender.
DID YOU KNOW?
The most successful Winter Olympian of all time was a cross-country skier. Bjoern Daehlie of Norway won eight Olympic gold medals between 1992 and 1998, along with four silvers. He nearly won a ninth gold, but surprisingly lost a sprint finish to Silvio Fauner of Italy in the men’s 4x10-kilometer relay at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, stunning the home crowd.
Two gold medals will be awarded, one for men and one for women. Ten teams are in both tournaments. They all play each other once in the round-robin stage, with four advancing to the semifinals.
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