Jessica Diggins competes during the Ladies' 4x5km Relay at the Winter Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 17, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.

 

Cross-country skiing as a mode of transportation far outdates its history as a competitive sport. Records of people in Nordic countries strapping planks of wood to their feet to traverse snow-covered terrain date back hundreds of years. What Jessie Diggins and Co. will be doing in Beijing is quite a bit more advanced.

Cross-country skiing emerged as a sport around the turn of the 20th century in Norway, and men’s cross-country skiing has been part of every Olympic Winter Games since the first one in 1924. Women have been racing at the Olympics since 1952.

The Nordic countries have led the way in Olympic cross-country skiing, with Norway’s 47 gold medals and 121 total medals atop both lists. Sweden, with 31 golds and 80 total medals, is next. However, if combining historic versions of the Russian team — including the Soviet Union, the Unified Team and the Russian Olympic Committee — that adds up to 42 gold medals and 118 total medals.

The U.S. has rarely been in the discussion of top cross-country skiing nations — until recently, that is. For years, Bill Koch’s silver medal in 1976 stood as the lone American medal in the sport. Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall changed that in a big way in PyeongChang. Their thrilling victory in the team sprint marked Team USA’s first gold medal in cross-country skiing. Though Randall has since retired, Diggins leads a U.S. team with more medal potential into Beijing.

The competition in Beijing will include 12 events — six for men, six for women. Races are designated as using either the traditional “classic” technique, in which skiers stride forward like they’re walking, or the “freestyle” technique popularized by Koch in which skiers propel themselves using a skating-like motion. The one exception is the skiathlon, which requires skiers to switch techniques at the midway point of the race. Although men and women race at different distances during the Olympics, both have a skiathlon, a freestyle sprint, a team classic sprint, a relay, an individual classic race and a mass start freestyle long-distance race.

The Olympic cross-country skiing events will be held at the National Cross-Country Centre in the Zhangjiakou area northwest of Beijing. In addition to Nordic skiing events, this area will also host most of the freestyle skiing and snowboarding.

Updated on January 28, 2022. For more information, contact the sport press officer here.

After years as an afterthought in international competition, the U.S. women’s team has emerged as a contender over the past generation (a journey chronicled by TeamUSA.org writer Peggy Shinn in the 2018 book “World Class: The Making of the U.S. Women’s Cross-Country Ski Team.”). The now-retired Kikkan Randall led the way in many respects, but the current generation led by Jessie Diggins, Rosie Brennan and Julia Kern, among others, has kept the U.S. women among the sport’s elite heading into Beijing.

The American men are still awaiting their breakthrough. No U.S. man has reached the Olympic podium since Bill Koch’s silver medal in 1976, and the best individual finish by an American man in PyeongChang was Scott Patterson’s 11th in the 50K race. However, a new generation of skiers including JC Schoonmaker, Ben Ogden and Gus Schumacher, all 21, could be ready to lead a resurgence. 

The Beijing Games will mark the first in 24 years without Marit Bjørgen. The Norwegian skier won 15 medals over her five Olympics, making her the most decorated Winter Olympian ever. Nonetheless, Norway and Sweden should still be the teams to beat after those countries won 11 of the 12 world titles in 2021.

Rosie Brennan (Park City, Utah): In early 2021, Brennan became just the second American to don the yellow bib as the overall world cup leader, marking a rapid ascent for the skier who had never ranked higher than 17th in the overall standings. Brennan was coming off her first two world cup wins at the time and ended the season in fourth. The 33-year-old comes into the Olympics ranked 15th overall and could be a factor in any of the races.

Jessie Diggins (Afton, Minnesota): Diggins made history in 2018 when she and Kikkan Randall won the team sprint, which was Team USA’s first gold medal in the sport ever. Her thrilling finish to the soundtrack of the NBC announcer yelling “Here comes Diggins!” was one of the most famous moments of the Games for Team USA. Diggins, now 30, has continued making history. In 2021, she became the first American to win the prestigious Tour de Ski, a multi-stage competition similar to the Tour de France. She went on to become the first American to win the overall world cup title that season. Going into her third Olympics, Diggins ranks third in both the overall and sprint standings. She’s reached the podium five times this season, with two wins.

Julia Kern (Waltham, Massachusetts): The 24-year-old Kern has started the season strong, racing with Diggins to a second-place finish in a team sprint in December and later racing to fourth place in an individual freestyle sprint. She goes into Beijing ranked 14th in the sprint standings and is most likely to make an impact in that event.

JC Schoonmaker (Tahoe City, California): The 21-year-old Schoonmaker is among the leaders of a new generation of skiers coming up on the men’s side. Having made his world cup debut in January 2020, the NCAA All-American from the University of Alaska Anchorage has made early strides, including posting a pair of top-10 finishes in sprint events this season. Ranked 14th in the sprint standings and 35th overall, Schoonmaker is the top American in both.

Meet the full U.S. cross country skiing team in this teamusa.org article

Feb. 5 – Women’s skiathlon (7.5K + 7.5K)
Feb. 6 – Men’s skiathlon (15K + 15K)
Feb. 8 – Women’s and men’s freestyle sprint
Feb. 10 – Women’s 10K classic
Feb. 11 – Men’s 15K classic
Feb. 12 – Women’s 4x5K relay
Feb. 13 – Men’s 4x10K relay
Feb. 16 – Women’s and men’s classic team sprint
Feb. 19 – Men’s 50K mass start freestyle
Feb. 20 – Women’s 30K mass start freestyle