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Siitonen and ‘his’ step

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When asked about his greatest success, Pauli Siitonen didn't have to think twice. “My greatest success was definitely winning the Vasaloppet on 4 March 1973”, said the cross-country skiing legend from Finland. “It's the most prestigious ski marathon in the world – and my victory took place in the 50th anniversary race.”

Siitonen, who died in April 2024 at the age of 86, became globally famous for something completely different, though. The Siitonen-step is a technique which sees the cross-country skier taking one leg out of the track and doing a half-skate step – and it started a revolution that culminated in the skating technique. 

Even though Siitonen is credited with the invention of this move, it is very likely that someone else invented it. “I've often thought about why the step was named after me”, said Siitonen, “but I don't really have an answer… Maybe it was because I was often in the lead and therefore a lot of people saw me.”

The step, which was used by many skiers at the end of the 1970s, was triggered by rapidly changing snow conditions in Central Europe as well as the new plastic skis that were increasingly used. “The kicking wax didn't stay on those skis in certain conditions, so it was easier to get out of the track with one ski”, recalled Siitonen. The rest is history, with cross-country skiing races held in both classic and free techniques since 1985. For this and for many other reasons, the name of Siitonen will live on.