Falling at the finish

There’s been a lot of talk these Olympics about why cross country skiers fall down a the end of the race. (See here¬†and here, for instance.) I’m not good enough to go hard enough to fall down like that (I will slump over my poles, but usually not collapse; I need to work on going harder) but I will expound upon why Nordic skiers do this and no one else does.

There are two elements that go towards pushing yourself so hard that at the end of a race you can’t stand up anymore. One: it has to be a long enough race. A 400 meter dash demands an extraordinary anaerobic effort, but isn’t long enough to completely drain your body. A 50k ski race? Well, yes. And two, and perhaps more importantly: you need a sport which uses your entire body. While runners do fall down from time to time at the ends of races, they have muscle groups which are relatively underused during the event: the legs put out more power than the arms during a marathon. In skiing, you are demanding peak exertion from every muscle group, draining everything down until you have nothing left anywhere.

And there aren’t many sports like this. Bicycling uses mostly legs. So does running. Of mainstream sports, it seems that only rowing and swimming are similarly full-body. Longer swimming races are long enough to qualify, and a 2000m rowing race is six to eight minutes (depending on the boat). Long, but not two hours. But then, at the end of a swimming race, you’re in bouyant water clinging to the edge of a pool; most of your weight is supported by the water. Grab the edge and you’re set. If you’re rowing, you’re sitting in a boat. If you’re on skis, you’re standing on narrow, slide-y strips of wood that have no business being balanced, at the same time trying to catch your breath. Oh, you may have just thrown yourself off balance to extend a foot across the line. And you may have been doing it for an hour or two, full blast.

So, yeah, while it might sometimes be a little overdramatic, you may fall down. Find me another sport like that, and I’ll race it 50k. Otherwise, see you in Cable.

Leave a Reply