Bjoergen Wants To Race As Far As The Guys

Inge ScheveFebruary 8, 201132
Norway's Marit Bjoergen wants to race 50 kilometers.

The 50 k is the most prestigious event in any World Championship – especially this year’s, which will take place in Holmenkollen, in the city of Oslo.

But only the men race 50 k. The women race 30 k – that’s the way it has always been.

At least until now. The biggest star among the female cross-country skiers, Marit Bjoergen (NOR) wants a change.

“We have the fitness base and are tough enough to race 50 kilometers,” Bjoergen told Norwegian TV station TV2.

Just as tough

When asked by the TV2 reporter why only men race 50K, Bjoergen’s reply was, “that’s a good question.”

“I would love to race a 50 k,” Bjoergen said. “It’s really no tougher for us (women) to race 50 k than it is for the guys, and we are totally prepared physically to race it.”

In the TV2 interview, Bjoergen signed off by telling the reporter that the interview and her comments should serve as an initial request to Vegard Ulvang, the chair of the International Ski Federation’s cross-country committee, to put the 50 k on the women’s race schedule.

From Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet and, February 7, 2011. Translation by Inge Scheve

Inge Scheve

Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.

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  • prairiekid

    February 8, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    I say let em all race Men and Women at the same time, MS.

  • Inge Scheve

    February 8, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    What do you think the World Cup guys will think if they get “girled”? As it is now, the men and women never race the same distance, same course on the FIS schedule. 🙂 So accordingly, in the current framework, nobody can get girled.

  • FasterSkier

    February 8, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Sprint courses are sometimes identical.

  • jo546

    February 8, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    It’s about time. XC skiing is definitively an old boys club. Why not have men racing 10km again too.

  • Tassava

    February 8, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    Note the comments about Ulvang himself saying that longer women’s races are a good idea…

  • Martin Hall

    February 9, 2011 at 12:18 am

    It hasn’t always been—the way the current distances are—I was on the committee that set the current distances–we specifically made the distances different as are men and women. Bjoergen doesn’t know what she is talking about—what nonsense–men are stronger, they have more muscle mass, they carry less fat, men have bigger hearts and lungs, and biomechanically men are built so they can go faster then women—it was our goal to make it so there would be the least amount of comparisons.
    When we got to the 30 we were increasing from a the 20km and the arguement was should the longest race be 30 or 40kms—I wanted 40kms as I didn’t think the 30 was long enough to cause women to bonk or have more potential to bonk like the men do in the 50—or did—they go so fast now—the times have dropped so much that this doesn’t happen like it use to.
    Maybe the real discussion should in consideration of testing both sexes limits to increase distances.
    The men already do a 10km in the relay—you could have discussions on this distance thing forever—when we made the changes it was all we talked about for days and we got to the point where someone said there is a deadline and we had to make the decision—I think it is time for FIS to stop tweaking things—right now when you consider even the last 5-7 years you’re not sure if they know what they are doing. For example the pursuit–3 different formats in 5 years or less.
    I would as I thought back then—go to 40 and see what that the out come is like.
    I don’t know what prarie kid is smoking—but to have men and women together all the time—of course there would be “girling”, but that would get boring soon, as there is no way a women would ever win and that is what racing is about—winning for both sexes. Don’t even go there—men and women are just not the same and are not made for comparison like I supported with dead on truths earlier. Enough for me.

  • xclad

    February 9, 2011 at 3:21 am

    “Girling” of getting “chicked”, would actually not occur. If it did it would occur very little.
    Looking at the times of sprint races (prologues) when men and women have gone the same distance, in almost identical conditions, you will see that the fastest women is normally a similar speed to the last man. This would leave only the last man in the field fighting for his manhood, and trying not to get chicked.
    It is similar all the way up the distances if you look at the split speeds. Look at the times the women come through 1,3 then 5km (whatever the split points are on that day) then look at the mens times. Aften the first women is about the same as the last mn.
    If they were to race together as equals women would have to go through the same qualification process as men. They simply wouldn’t qualify to race in the world cup. As often the last man in a WC has b qualification coming from a small skiing nation with no “A” qualified skiers.
    However if they raced at the same time over the same distance and different prizes awarded at the end then it could be interesting to see how long the big names in women’s skiing can hold on to the mens field. especially in a mass start.

  • mountainmums

    February 9, 2011 at 3:23 am

    Yeah yeah men are stronger blah blah. Somehow though, a running marathon is 42 km for women, all triathlon distances are the same, including ironmans, I could go on and on.

    There is no valid pshysiological excuse for women to be racing shorter distances. Sure, they won’t race the same distance as fast as guys, but the only problem with that is TV scheduling. Which may very well be the real reason behind all of this …

  • fontana92

    February 9, 2011 at 4:45 am

    I don’t see why they shouldn’t get to race the same distances. Some of the differences are just a bit ridiculous. The pursuit. And the 5k for women’s relay. And just for fun, imagine Bjoergen in a men’s mass start, or Johaug girling guys up the Tour de Ski final climb. Maybe they should consider a mixed relay?

  • goneskiing

    February 9, 2011 at 6:06 am

    I dont believe bjoergen’s point is to race the men. Men have physiological advantages, there is no denying that.
    This isn’t a battle of the sexes…but rather, racing 50km for women would place different demands on the field than the current 30km and let the true gritty distance skiers gut it out.

  • Lars

    February 9, 2011 at 6:37 am

    I think the reason men and women don`t race the same distance it that there is less competitive fields among the women so if you increase the distance the time between the girls gets huge and the races gets less interesting.

  • jt10000

    February 9, 2011 at 6:39 am

    Is the Nordic Commentary Project aware of that issue? I’d like to read it but am heeding the Google warning.

  • Nathaniel Herz

    February 9, 2011 at 6:58 am

    If you look at the results from Otepaa, Marit Bjoergen’s lap times of the 5 k course were roughly 13:30–meaning that her pace was faster than any of the men who finished lower than 52nd, including, for example, Canadian Kevin Sandau, who raced to sixth place at a race at U-23’s later that week. Obviously, had she was racing 10 k and the men 15, but still, pretty awesome…

  • nexer

    February 9, 2011 at 7:27 am

    Google is paranoid. The site is fine.

    I think if the women want to race the same distances then they should be allowed. They’re adults and should be treated as such. They don’t need a bunch of men deciding what they can or can’t do.

  • lsiebert

    February 9, 2011 at 7:49 am

    I am of the opinion that if the women want to race the same distance as the men, they should be allowed to. There is no reason I have heard that women should race shorter distances than the men. I’m not saying they should all race together, but they should probably have the opportunity to do that as well.

    Also, I’m 100% in favor of a mixed relay. I think it would be really fun to watch.

    Finally, NCP is most definitely not an attack site.

  • Ritu

    February 9, 2011 at 8:13 am

    Why not let women race 50km? I don’t see this is a question of “getting girled” or not “getting girled”. Bjorgen’s seems to be saying that she’s up for the challenge – 50km is a different race than 30km, there’s no arguing that.

    Men and women are physiologically different… In addition to cardiovascular differences mentioned above, men typically have more “fast-twitch fibers” and thus have the force-production capabilities to move faster (look at sprinting), but if we look at ultra-marathons, men “get girled” relatively often (women typically have more “slow-twitch” muscle fibers that support endurance). I don’t see these physiological differences as limiting though – to allow women to race 50km will probably end up being more a question of money than anthing else, it certainly is not a question of can they or can’t they… Will the media broadcast longer event? Are there enough women at that level who want to race 50km (especially considering how much more popular these shorter events are)?

  • Lars

    February 9, 2011 at 8:59 am

    I think Ulvang said that when FIS asked the women what they wanted the majority wanted to stay with the shorter distances that we have today. So its not the old men telling the women what to do. Lets not make this in to a womens rights issue.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    February 9, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Regardless of of one’s sex, if and athlete is fit, skating a 30km mass on race skis is just not a “marathon”, no matter how one slices it.

    When these distances were set 30+ years ago (likley by men), there was no skating and ski/wax speeds and per km speeds were significantly slower (more than 15%). To stop these constant (and boring) multi-skier sprints to the line/who-has-the-largest-shoe-size-wins during the mass start skate 50km, increase the distance for men by at least 10%.

    The women race = distances in running (including 26.2mi marathon). The women should race 50km at minimum, the men 55-60km.

  • Martin Hall

    February 9, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Also, remember the numbers for the women’s courses; total climb, largest climb are all smaller then the men—so let’s say FIS wa to undertake one schedule for both sexes with all the same courses—you would have a bunch of women’s basket cases by the end of any of the mini tour weekends and for the championships—when you watch the live broadcast check those numbers out—this is not a good discussion to have—it will go nowhere with FIS—if Bjoergen wants to do 50s head for the World Loppet—then she won’t have to compromise anything.
    Also, in sprinting the women would get beaten up quite badly—I don’t care how good they are—actually that’s not true—they’d be dropped 50 meters out from the start line and would be doing whsat they do now—all the women would be together—this is a silly discussion the more I think of it.

  • Tim Kelley

    February 9, 2011 at 11:24 am

    It’s about time a top woman xc racer made a statement like this. Women run the same 26 miles as men (and almost as fast). So it’s a sexist anachronism that women ski race a shorter marathon length than the men in the Olympic and World Championships. All xc ski racers, women and men, should be embarassed that this sex disparity has gone on for so long.

  • caldxski

    February 9, 2011 at 11:58 am

    I always like to keep a sense of humor and have a little story here. We ran the National 50k at Putney a long, long time ago, before women were racing much. Sara Mae Berman, from CSU, came up to me and asked to enter and I said sure, gave her a number and she was off. The course was five times around our 10k loop and Sara got lapped. Everyone had finished as she skied by the start at the beginning of her 5th lap. I told her we had to give out the prizes, I would leave the clock on the table and when she finished, would she please write down her time. She finished, all the officials were elsewhere, and she turned in her time. I’m sure she would verify this.

  • Tassava

    February 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    One point that seems especially relevant to this discussion – with respect to the long-distance races – is that elite men and women do race the exact same distances and courses in Worldloppet/”Ski Classics”/Marathon Cup races – the two Birkebeiners, the Vasaloppet, the Marcialonga, etc. Nobody worries (anymore) that Susanne Nystrom or Sandra Hansson can’t handle the 90km of the Vasaloppet.

    At the other end of the spectrum, I can’t think of a citizen’s race that has separate distances for men and women.

    Beyond all that, the implicit sexism of the argument that men won’t want to get “girled” is nauseating. If you don’t want someone to beat you (either by time or head-to-head), ski faster!

  • skiar

    February 9, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Tassava. You should realize that no men are making the argument that Women should not be allowed to race the same distance because they would get girled. The only people saying that are the women on the board, because for some reason they think that this would actually happen.

  • SkijorAK

    February 9, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Thank you, Tim. I have always been amazed that this disparity has gone on so long.

    Marty- what? Women are weak, eh? I guess giving birth is weak. I guess beating all the guys in 100 mile trail races is weak. Poor me with my small heart, and lungs, and all that extra fat I have to carry. I guess I’d better start peeling off halfway through my workouts with my boyfriend to protect my ovaries from too much shaking. Women always race the same distances in citizen 50Ks and so far there have been no issues with women passing out along the way, or with timers having to stand out for hours in the cold waiting for the last pathetic female to stumble across the line.

    I don’t care what reasons the very MALE world of competitive XC ski racing gives (less muscle mass, slower, more spread out finish times). There is no reason to continue this. Come on, this is 2010!

    I can’t imagine if they were to change the Boston Marathon to a 15 miles for women, 26.2 for men. Women have proven they can run nearly as fast as the men, and the gap is closing. No wonder very very few women continue XC ski racing after college. The race fields are often 70-85% male if you count age 23 and up. The male ego dominated field is part of the reason. You don’t see this male-female skew in running races.

    Go Marit! Maybe if someone with her profile and athletic acheivement speaks up things will finally change. It’s time to bring XC ski racing up to date with all other endurance sports. I know I (and any daughters I have) can handle it.

  • biathlete

    February 9, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    I’ve always been surprised by the disparity in xc races. At least in biathlon the split makes a bit more sense-7.5km vs. 10km seems more logical than 5 and 10 and especially than 30km vs. 50km! While I don’t really understand what Marty is getting at in most of his posts, the suggestion to move the 30k to a 40 seems like a good one. I imagine most of the reticence IS from TV, as mountainmums suggested…most things in biathlon and XC that don’t make sense can be tracked back to TV scheduling.

  • Tassava

    February 9, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Skiar, I didn’t say that anyone on this comment thread was making that argument, implicitly or explicitly, but it does seem to be one, maybe most dominant, reason for the FIS’s race-distance arrangements. Few could argue that outright sexism has not been a factor in (men’s) assumption that, say, women couldn’t run the marathon – or ski jump!

  • mark.thomas

    February 10, 2011 at 1:59 am

    I don’t have a problem with men and women doing equal distances in things like world loppets, but doing different distances when it comes to the world cups. I would like to see the distances that they race be based on typical finish times maybe so that both men and women are out there for about the same amount of time. The 7.5/10km split that biathlete mentions vs. the splits like 10/15km or 30/50km (or 15/30km in the pursuit!) would be a good start, for example. The Tour de Ski point to point race was a glaring example of the current differences – 35km (point to point) for the men, and 15 km (3 laps or something) for the women.

  • xclad

    February 10, 2011 at 4:28 am

    Watching women’s racing can be really exciting, especially in sprints. Because the women seem to really attack and dont relie on tactics and a short sprint to finish.
    But to watch a 10k time trial where Marit Bjørgen is in front from the 1st splint and ends up winning the race with 30 seconds is not exciting. Imagine that over a 50k! After the first 5k all the cameras would focus on would be the front group of about 3 skiers. They would be able to lap over half the field if it was held on a 5k lap. So half the field would be stopped due to the lapping rule. The time gaps would be HUGE.
    There is no denying these women can do it and they can do it fast. But the field size at womens WC is getting really small, to then make them race 50k and watch as the top few obliterate the field could be detrimental to womens skiing and make it even more elitist with only a few skiers who can realistically compete for the medals at WC.

    They should try it out some time for sure, but i dont think it will be successful

  • hbxcskier

    February 10, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    If men and women do the same distances in track and field I see no clear reason as to why it should be different in cross country skiing.
    Sounds like the classic tale of backwards conservatism that plagues so many vestiges of our society, FIS is obviously no exception. I’m sure in several years this will be a non-issue, as the old conservatives are rotated out of the FIS bureaucracy.

  • nordicguy

    February 11, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Ugghhh, why does this have to turn into a women rights discussion? I haven’t seen a large outcry from world cup women to change this. Until the women speak up in mass numbers why are people accusing the current FIS administration of being sexist. I don’t think they are going to be inclined to make big changes if the women themselves are not advocating for it. Let’s quit trying to brew up some big controversy where there really isn’t one.

  • Cloxxki

    February 14, 2011 at 7:39 am

    In FIS WorldCups, no-one will get girled, the field is too close. In IBU WC racing though, despite new qualification criteria in place, this will happen.
    As far as I’ve worked out, the ladies take around 10% longer to complete a course. The difference may be a bit more on very tough (steep) sprint courses with short downhills.
    A bottom half biathlete on a bad day will certainly be girled by the likes of Goesnner or Neuner for the same amount of penalty laps.

    As a guy who truly appraciates women as equals, just slower than equally talented men, I consider it most sexist that organisors go through all the trouble to extend the course DURING a mixed relay competition, to accomodate the men with a slightly longer course than the women’s. At some FIS sprint venues this happens at times also. Women 10k, then the men do 15k. Makes no sence at all.
    The 10k sprint could be for all competitors, lining up woman-man-women-man-woman, etc, so the men will have to time their overtaking well, and the women can try to make a move clinging on momentarily. To make it as fair as possible, the fastest men would be in the first group, mixed with the fastest women. If the faster women were to start along the slower men, it would get awkward. Men getting in the way.

    If the men’s and women’s 50k would have a mass start, a few women will be able to follow the men’s backmarkers, and really put time on the other women. Al least this way no boring race till the final sprint. Some rules like no drafting a fellow countryman may be required though. One guy who sacrifices his race could really do damage to the women’s field by dragging his team mate through hard parts of the course. Unfair interference.

    Tour de Ski, it appalled me that the women got a standard multi-lap XC skate, where the men got an A-to-B race over a mountain, with awesome skido and heli footage. the women’s race would have been brutal. Large gaps opened on the uphill, and then lots of pain in the downhill to close or extend leads. the men’s race was a bit of a procession.

    For speed skating, the sprint competitions are same distances, 2×500+2×1000, but in allround, the 10k is swapped for a 3k for the women. The 10k is traditionally quite boring, so they might as well reduce the men’s competition there. That would also make the starting fields stronger, with sprint specialist able to contend the allround better.

    As for Bjoergen, I am very suspect of her ethics (performing too well, outclassing even Kowalckzyk), but here she has a good point.

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