The New Zealand Cross Country Ski Championships marked an important milestone for women’s equality in the sport on Saturday, with open category entrants all racing the same distance.
    New Zealand national women’s champion 2022 Sonja Mueller, of Dunedin, said the races were significant.
    ‘‘For the first time at the national championship, men and women are racing the same distance. FIS just this year determined men and women would be racing the same distances at a national level, so here we are. We are doing the same . . . in the open category we are all doing 10km.’’
    The Federation of International Skiing (FIS) cross-country committee has been debating the rule change for nearly two years.
    At the Winter Olympics in China in February 2022, women raced 15km while men raced 30km.
    The rule was changed in May but was not unanimous.
    Russia, Austria and Italy were among the countries that had opposed the change.
    Some overseas media have reported people saying it is ‘‘boring’’ to have to wait for women to finish longer races, because women are slower than men and their races did not make such good television and spectator viewing.
    Swedish female athletes have reportedly been very supportive of the opportunities to race longer distances, as has US cross country star, Jessie Diggans.
    New Zealand championships timekeeper Ernie Maluschnig, of Wanaka, said he had been keen on equal distances for a long time.
    Skiers had options of racing 5km or 2.5km last Saturday, but the championship was determined by the combined result in the open categories, over the 10km races in classic and skate disciplines.
    Waiorau Nordic Ski Club president Bruce Clulow it was ‘‘really exciting to see nationals back on track and being able to run an event again’’ after Covid restrictions and poor weather in the past three years.
    ‘‘It is important at grassroots level. You see a lot of youngsters here . . . who show a lot of potential and it’s important to give them some recognition,’’ Mr Clulow said.
    Winter Olympian biathlete Campbell Wright (20) won the men’s national cross-skiing championship on Saturday.
    The biathlon national championships are this weekend, and the Snow Farm’s signature big day out, the Merino Muster, is scheduled for the first weekend in September.