Host City: Salt Lake City, United States
Date Started: February 9, 2002
Date Finished: February 9, 2002
Participants: 260 (153 men and 107 women) from 44 countries
Youngest Participant: Irina Terentjeva (17 years, 224 days)
Oldest Participant: Arturo Kinch (45 years, 311 days)
Most Medals (Athlete): 4 athletes with 3 medals
Most Medals (Country): Norway (11 medals)
The 2002 cross-country events were conducted in Soldier Hollow, a specially constructed Nordic ski center in Wasatch Mountain State Park, in Wasatch County, near Heber, Utah, a little southeast of Salt Lake City. There was one major and a few minor changes to the program. The cross-country program added a sprint event of approximately 1,500 metres. It was skied with a qualifying round, with the top 16 skiers advancing to match racing. The match races consist of heats of four skiers each, with two skiers advancing in each round, until a final round of four skiers determines the medals, and one unfortunate fourth-place finisher. As in 1994 and 1998, the middle- and long-distance individual races flipped styles, with the middle-distance (15 km for women, 30 km for men) freestyle in Salt Lake City, and the long-distance races (30 km for women, 50 km for men) skiied classically. But there was another minor change. The middle-distance freestyle race was changed to a mass start event for both men and women.
Three female skiers performed the unusual feat of winning a full set of medals in Salt Lake City, one gold, one silver, and one bronze. This was done by Italy’s Stefania Belmondo, Norway’s Bente Skari-Martinsen, and Russia’s Yuliya Chepalova, with Belmondo and Chepalova winning all theirs in individual events.
But the big story of Salt Lake City was the performance of German émigré Johann Mühlegg, now competing for Spain. A useful skier who had competed at the 1992, 1994 and 1998 Winter Olympics, but had never medaled, Mühlegg obtained a Spanish passport in 1999 and now competed for that country. He was impressive in Salt Lake City, winning the 30 km, 50 km, and pursuit races, until his doping screen turned up traces of darbopoietin, an erythropoietin analogue used to boost blood cell volume and oxygen carrying capacity. When his doping results from the 30 km and pursuit were discovered, shortly after the 50 km, he was immediately disqualified from that event, but his gold medals in the two earlier competitions were allowed to stand. It was not until December 2003 that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that Mühlegg should also be disqualified from these events and return his gold medals.
Another doping scandal occurred in Salt Lake City involving the Austrian cross-country skiers. After the Winter Olympics, intravenous set-ups and discarded blood bags were found in their quarters. Eventually six of the Austrian skiers were banned from the Olympics for life, and disqualified from the 2002 Winter Olympics.