Winter Olympics: Cross-Country

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The Independent Online
THE pressure could not be greater on the hosts. Two years ago in Albertville, Bjorn Daehlie and Vegard Ulvang won two cross-country skiiing golds each, and another with the relay team, and now the crowds thronging the Birkebeineren stadium (this is Norway's national sport) will be demanding a similiar return from them.

Ulvang in particular is an all-Norweigan hero. His home is 250 miles north of the Acrtic Circle and when he isn't racing he is an adventurer - crossing Greenland on skis, climbing the highest peaks on three continents, trekking on horseback across Outer Mongolia and so on.

Cross-country skiers have the highest aerobic capacity of any endurance sport. The men race over distances from 10km (times around 27 minutes) to 50km, the women from 5km to 30km, in two styles. The classical features the traditional skis- in-a-line stride while, in the freestyle, racers adopt a skating step.

The Norweigans are unlikely to have things all their own way, as Vladimir Smirnov, of Kazakhstan, has won five of the season's six world cup races. In the women's events, the Russians, led by Elena Vialbe, expect to dominate.

British team: Dave Belam.