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Cross-country skiing World Cup sets equal distances for women, men

Cross-Country Skiing World Cup

LAHTI, FINLAND - FEBRUARY 26: Jessie Diggins of Usa and Anamarija Lampic of Slovenia crossing the finish during the Individual Sprint at the FIS World Cup Cross-Country Lahti on February 26, 2022 in Lahti, Finland. (Photo by Federico Modica/NordicFocus/Getty Images)

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World Cup cross-country skiing races are set to be the same distances for women and men next season after women historically had shorter races outside of sprints.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) cross-country committee, made up of members of national federations, approved the change by a 57 percent vote.

All committee decisions are subject to approval by the FIS council on May 26.

“The main argument to vote for equal distances was that there should not be any question whether women were capable of racing the same distances as men, as they prove that they physically are capable of doing so already,” according to a FIS press release. “The main argument against was the time that women need to cover the same distance as men and the effective TV time.”

Women and men would also race the same distances at junior world championships and the Youth Olympics. FIS will decide next May whether to implement the change at the biennial world championships. Often, changes in sports’ world championships programs precede changes to the Olympic program.

Currently, the Olympic cross-country skiing program has different distances for the interval start race (10km for women, 15km for men), skiathlon (15km for women, 30km for men), mass start (30km for women, 50km for men) and relay (4x5km for women, 4x10km for men).

The new World Cup format will have 10km, 20km and 50km races, plus the skiathlon at 20km. FIS did not say in its release how relay distances will change.

The mass start is particularly notable as it is considered the marathon of winter sports and, like the track and field equivalent, is held on the final weekend of the Olympics. The men’s mass start is actually longer than a marathon (31 miles), while the women’s mass start is 18.6 miles. The men’s race takes about a half-hour longer than the women’s race.

“On principle, it really bothers me a lot,” Jessie Diggins, who took 30km silver at the Beijing Olympics to give her a medal of every color, said last year of the unequal mass start distance, according to On Her Turf. “Not only can we ski 50km, but we can ski more.

“Do we need to race the exact same length? Maybe not. Do we need to race the same amount of time on course? Yeah, I think that’s absolutely reasonable.”

The men’s mass start at the Beijing Winter Games was shortened due to weather to the point that the women’s mass start, which was not shortened, was a longer race by distance. That marked a first in Olympic cross-country skiing history, according to On Her Turf.

Biathlon and short- and long-track speed skating also have shorter distances for women than men in some events on the Olympic program (in biathlon’s case, all events). There are also Olympic men’s events in ski jumping and Nordic combined that do not have a women’s event equivalent.

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