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Skiing and Science: Practice, Theory and Co-Production of Training Knowledge in Cross-Country Skiing since the 1950s
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology, History of Science, Technology and Environment.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-2914-4476
2015 (English)In: ECSS Congress Malmö 2015: Sustainable Sport, Köln, 2015Conference paper, Abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]


Elite endurance athletes of today use specialized, scientific training methods and the increasing role of science in sports is undeniable. This is especially true for cross-country skiing. But how and when did scientists and educated coaches gain power? Scientification of training methods in cross-country skiing accelerated in the 1950s and cross-country skiing was an early adopter, even if not all skiers were (Svensson 2013). Still, the experiential, local knowledge of skiers remain an important ingredient in modern day training. How have these different knowledge traditions merged? How has it changed training in theory and practice?



This paper analyzes how physiologists and skiers interacted in the transformation of training methods. Material from archives, interviews and previous research will be studied using theories of bio-power (Foucault 1998), sportification (Yttergren 2006, Guttmann 1978) and STS (Knorr-Cetina 1999, Latour 1987) Skiers from Sweden and Norway will be used as the main examples.


Results and discussion

Training methods were developed through meetings between practitioners and theoreticians. Scientification of training was driven by hardening international competition. The creation of “rational” training methods was a co-production of knowledge between different knowledge traditions, where skiers represented a traditional, local and tacit knowledge (Polanyi 1958), while scientists represented scientific, written knowledge with universal claims.

In the co-production of knowledge about training, bodies were at the core. Ultimately it was a matter of control over bodies. Should they be subjected to bio-power (Foucault 1998, 2001) or should they remain under the control of the practitioner? The relationship between skier and scientist resembled that of patient and doctor. Interaction between the expert on the local level (skier /patient) and the universal level (physiologist/doctor) resulted in a knowledge-base that affected both practice and theory. Rational training, in the end, was not built only on science but also on the individual and collective experiences of elite skiers.



Foucault, M.(1998), The Will to Knowledge. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1. New York: Penguin Books.

Guttmann, A. (1978), From Ritual to Record. The Nature of Modern Sports. New York: Columbia University Press.

Heggie, V. (2011), A History of British Sport Medicine. Manchester: Manchester University Press.


Knorr Cetina, K. (1999), Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge. London: Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. (1987), ‘Centers of Calculation’, in Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 215-257.

Polanyi, M. (1958), Personal Knowledge. Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Svensson, D.(2013), ‘How Much Sport is there in Sport Physiology? Practice and Ideas in the Stockholm School of Physiology at GCI, 1941–1969’ in The International Journal of the History of Sport, vol. 30, no. 8, pp. 892-913.

Yttergren, L. (1996), Täflan är lifvet: idrottens organisering och sportifiering i Stockholm 1860-1898. Stockholm : Stockholmia.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Köln, 2015.
Keyword [en]
Cross-country skiing, training, bio-power, rationalization, technologies of sportification
National Category
Research subject
History of Science, Technology and Environment
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-170459OAI: diva2:838488
European College of Sport Science (ECSS) Congress 2015, ‘Sustainable Sport’, Malmö.
Rationell träning
Swedish National Centre for Research in Sports

QC 20150701

The presentation was awarded with ECSS Young Investigators Award (YIA) 2015.

Available from: 2015-06-30 Created: 2015-06-30 Last updated: 2015-07-01Bibliographically approved

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