What an exciting finish to the men’s Olympic 50K XCountry ski race! 50K in 2:05 – why that’s almost as fast as I ride my bike. But XC skiing is quite different than cycling – it is a 100% total body sport and these skiers are some amazing endurance athletes. Propelling the body on skies requires intense work by both the arms and the legs.
The interesting thing about XC is that there is no “perfect” body type as there is in other sports such as long distance running and swimming. World champion male skiers have ranged in height from 5′ 6 (1.68 m) to 6’6″ (2.0 m) with the elite skiers having little body fat, but not to an extreme.
The single physiological variable that most clearly distinguishes the champion cross-country skier from the average person or even a well-trained skier is maximal oxygen consumption. These endurance athletes have amazing cardiovascular systems with a powerful and efficient heart pump to deliver oxygen rich blood to the muscles and a well developed oxidative capacity in the muscles with finely tuned mitochondria to use the oxygen and support the continuous high rate of exercise.
The guys winning the medals in the Olympics will have max VO2 values between 80-85ml/min/kg, maximal cardiac outputs of over 40 liters/min, and stroke volumes over 200 ml/beat. For comparison the average maximal oxygen consumption for an untrained male in the mid-30s is about 40-45ml/min/kg, a CO of about 15liters/min, and SV around 100ml/beat for similar amounts of exercise.
These athletes just have some mighty big and exceptionally trained engines!