At the Summer Olympics, the IOC requires representatives from every continent in each sport. Even in team sports, where only between 8 and 16 teams can take part, there’s always a team from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania and South America represented – although in some cases the two Americas are considered a single continent (this depends on the federation that governs the sport). At the Winter Olympics though, having all six continents compete in the same competition is quite rare.
This is not very surprising. After all, winter sports are originally – and still mostly – a thing for the rich and white, preferably from nations that have snow. This was adequately reflected by the list of participants in the inaugural Winter Olympics: North America and Europe were the only continents represented. South America (Argentina) and Asia (Japan) joined the Winter Olympics in 1928. Oceania became the fifth continent in 1936 (Australia) and South Africa was the first African nation in 1960.
The first time competitors from all six continents lined up at the start for the same Winter Olympic event was in 1968. In the men’s giant slalom, 101 skiers from 33 nations took part, including 4 Moroccans providing the “rare” African Winter Olympians. The slalom, held some days later, also saw all continents represented.
Since 1968, there have regularly been alpine skiing events with all six continents represented: in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010. With the exception of 1992, all of them were men’s events. In Albertville, the women also had three events with all continents, Oceania being the least represented continent (through Australia’s Zali Steggall).
The Albertville Games also marked the first time when a different sport than alpine skiing had the honor of six continents at the start. In two men’s cross country skiing events (the 10 km and the pursuit), this also happened. In Vancouver, the men’s 15 km was similarly universal.
In Sochi the list of sports with universal representation will not expand. Most likely, there will be some alpine skiing and cross country skiing events in which all six continents are represented (event start lists are not yet available, so we cannot be certain yet). It is not strange that this only happens for those two sports: they are the only winter sports for which any country can qualify a competitor (although they’re subject to some qualifying demands). It’s possible that in the future figure skating may join the list of competitors. South America is represented in that sport for the first time since 1908, and South Africa (previously already represented) did competed in the 2012 Worlds.
In Sochi, biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen will compete in his sixth – and probably last – Winter Olympics. While that would tie the current record for participations, it will likely be broken in Sochi by two competitors. Bjørndalen may still break another record: that for most Winter Olympic events started in. He has currently had 21 starts (20 in biathlon, 1 in cross-country skiing) and can break the Olympic record of 25 by competing in all five men’s biathlon events in Sochi. Given his results this season, this is quite likely to happen. Other athletes who competed in Vancouver and have earned 21 starts, Oksana Yatskaya and Ilmārs Bricis are not expected to start in Sochi, although Yatskaya has been active this season.
The current record is held by a not-so-famous athlete, although she became Olympic champion in 2002. Cross country skier Gabriella Paruzzi (Italy) has competed in five Olympic events at five Olympic Games, 1992 through 2006. At each of these Games, she won a medal. She won four bronzes with the Italian relay team, and an individual gold. That came in the 2002 30 km race, although she was only awarded the medal almost two years later, as Larisa Lazutina was finally scratched from the record books due to an out-of-competition doping violation. Paruzzi’s teammate and contemporary, Stefania Belmondo is second on the list of most events started in, with 22. She was more successful than her compatriot though, earning 10 medals including two golds (and a silver behind Paruzzi in the 2002 30 km).
Looking at the top ten of most Winter Olympic starts, it is not a surprise there are a lot of cross-country skiers there. The sport has had a large number of events for many years, allowing competitors with long careers to make many starts. Biathlon, which has grown from three to five events per Olympics, is now allowing the same. Speed skating also has six events, but as we have seen starters in all Olympic speed skating events have become rare in recent years. The top 10 of most Olympic starts is:
1,Gabriella Paruzzi,ITA,cross country skiing,1992-2006,25
2,Stefania Belmondo,ITA,cross country skiing,1988-2002,22
3,Oksana Yatskaya,KAZ,cross country skiing,1998-2010,21
3,Harri Kirvesniemi,FIN,cross country skiing,1980-1998,21
3,Ole Einar Bjørndalen,NOR,biathlon & cross country skiing,1994-2010,21
7,Kjetil André Aamodt,NOR,alpine skiing,1992-2006,20
7,Kateřina Neumannová,CZE,cross country skiing,1992-2006,20
7,Emese Nemeth-Hunyady,HUN&AUT,speed skating,1984-2002,20
10,Hiroyuki Imai,JPN,cross country skiing,1992-2002),19
10,Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi-Hämäläinen,FIN,cross country skiing,1976-1994),19
10,Manuela Di Centa,ITA,cross country skiing,1984-1998),19
10,Sergey Chepikov,URS&EUN&RUS,biathlon & cross country skiing,1988-2006),19[/table]
It should be pointed out that Kateřina Neumannová also competed in the 1996 Summer Olympics in mountainbiking, realizing an additional, 21st, start. The married couple of Harri and Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi take the pairs title for Winter Olympic starts, with a combined total of 40.
And here is the next-to-last set of USA related sports factsheets, this time for the four Nordic sports of cross-country skiing, biathlon, Nordic combined, and ski jumping. Tomorrow, we’ll finish up the USA sports factsheets with the team sports of curling and ice hockey. Later this week, now that the sports quotas have closed (19 Jan), we will start giving National Factsheets for the competing nations at Sochi.
Olympic History: Nordic skiing has been practised in the Scandanavian countries since the 18th century, and competitions are known from the early 19th century. The sport has been on the Olympic program since the Chamonix games of 1924.
Nordic skiing consists of three major disciplines: cross-country skiing, ski jumping, and Nordic combined, combining elements of both cross-country and ski jumping. All three disciplines have been contested at all Winter Olympics. Women have competed only in cross-country skiing at the Olympic Winter Games and first began to do so in 1952, although that will change in 2014 with women competing in ski jumping.
Cross-country skiing consists of races varying from 10 to 50 kilometres for men, and from 5 to 30 kilometres for women, as well as relay races. The skiiers used to always race in time trial fashion, starting at intervals, but more mass start races have been added. For the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, 1,500 metre sprint cross-country skiing was added as an event for both men and women. At Torino in 2006, a two-person team sprint ski race was added for men and women.
In the 1980’s, cross-country skiing underwent a revolution that was started by Bill Koch, the first American to be a top international cross-country skiier. He changed from the classic cross-country style of alternating legs and arms with the stride being pushed straight backwards, remaining in the ski track, to a style similar to skating on skis, and using shorter skis. The FIS was urged to ban this style by the north Europeans, but it was decided instead to allow two styles. However, races are now designated as either “classic” or “freestyle,” with skating being allowed in freestyle races. In the relays, the first two legs are skiied classically while the final two legs are freestyle. Currently, the techniques allowed for each cross-country event alternate, with one style being used at one Olympic Winter Games, and the style reverting to the opposite at the next celebration.
A two-day combined pursuit event, one day classical and one day freestyle, was also contested for both men and women from 1992-2006, but this has been changed. The race now begins with a classical leg, followed by an immediate break, in which the skiiers change to freestyle skis, and then complete a freestyle leg. It is now called the skiathlon.
As of November 2013, there are 120 member nations affiliated to the FIS. This makes it the largest International Sporting Federation for any winter sport. The FIS governs what it terms six disciplines of skiing – alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined, freestyle skiing, and snowboarding. Cross-country, ski jumping, and Nordic combined are often termed one sport of Nordic skiing.
The 120 member nations of FIS are as follows: Albania, Algeria, American Samoa, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Bermuda, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, DPR Korea (North), Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Great Britain, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Kosovo, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malta, Marocco, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Palestine, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United States of America, Uruguay, US Virgin Islands, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.