Cross-country skiing has a long and rich history. Originating in icy Fennoscandian countries such as Sweden, Finland and Latvia, this sport is often called “Nordic skiing”, even though several Nordic countries do not have much skiing history. Skiing has been a part of human culture for thousands of years, with drawings and actual skis found in Norway and Switzerland dating back as early as 5,000 BC.
Skiing did not start as a sport. Like snowshoes, the first skis were simply another way of traveling more easily over deep snow. Hunters utilized the increased speed and agility skiing provided to more effectively take down deer and elk. Centuries after they had become established as useful hunting travel gear, skis began to be used by soldiers as well. Cross-country skiing was a great help to Finnish soldiers during the Winter War, enabling small numbers of Fins to take on much larger groups of Russian soldiers who did not have such mobility because they had no skis. All Nordic countries with standing armies have trained ski infantry for cold-weather military operations.
Skiing hunters and troops have been armed with crossbows, ski poles with harpoon heads on the ends, guns and more over the years, and there is even a modern biathlon (a combination of two sports) involving skiing while shooting at targets with a rifle.
Skiing did not become a sport until around 1843, when the first known race on skis was held in Norway. The first officially-timed cross-country skiing competition in history, held in Sweden in 1884, required that skiers travel 220 kilometers in two stages. The winner’s finishing time was twenty-two hours and twenty-two minutes.
Cross-country skiing debuted in the Olympic Winter Games in 1924, with only three formats: 18 kilometers, 50 kilometers, and a combination race. In 1952, a 10-meter women’s race was added, and since then numerous other events and skiing methods have been introduced. As of 2010, cross-country skiing has the most events of any sport at the Olympic Winter Games, and is also one of the largest sources of medals there.