Skis, Songs and Shots at a Supremely Norwegian Sports Festival

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OSLO — For 2 days earlier this year’s Holmenkollen cross-country skis races, Espen Garder took his distant meetings from a heated structure successful the forest. Breaks came lone for luncheon and artillery charging astatine a edifice up the hill.

Garder, 53, had arrived aboriginal to assertion a spot, not conscionable for himself but besides for the twelve Boy Scouts helium leads. They would articulation him for the weekend, anxious to slumber successful the subfreezing temperatures on the five-mile racing loop.

Thousands much fans, nary little excitable, would instrumentality time trips connected Oslo’s metro strategy to battalion Holmenkollen’s skis country for 1 of the world’s astir improbable wintertime sports festivals, capped by a play of cheering, drinking and mania for cross-country skiing, which successful Norway is thing similar a religion.

To representation the festival’s scale, and its vibe, deliberation Scandinavian Super Bowl crossed with New York City Marathon: urban, Olympic-level competition, with spectators successful wool sweaters and suspenders, campfires grilling blistery dogs and capable brew and liquor for a tiny army.


The royal balcony astatine  Holmenkollen has an perfect  presumption    of the skis  jump.


Andrew Musgrave, a British cross-country skier who lives and trains successful Norway, described it this way: “It’s similar a clump of Vikings going retired and getting smashed successful the woods and cheering connected immoderate radical floating astir connected planks.”

Two 50-kilometer skis marathons — 1 for men and this year, for the archetypal time, 1 for women — are the bosom of the 10-day festival, which besides includes biathlon and skis jumping competitions, positive a relay contention for younger athletes. Outside the ropes, there’s thing for everyone else: a massive, trail-side enactment for assemblage students and caller graduates; a household country for quieter camping; a container for the royal family; and for fans focused connected diversion performance, a grandstand successful Holmenkollen’s skis stadium.

At their core, the cross-country events are celebrations of Norwegian values: hard work, persistence and tradition, according to Thor Gotaas, a folklorist whose 22 books connected skiing person made him a insignificant Norwegian celebrity.

“It reflects the tone of the radical that survived successful this country,” Gotaas said successful an interrogation astatine his location successful Oslo, 2 leisurely hours interrupted lone by his occasionally feeding caller logs into a roaring occurrence successful his wood stove. A 50-kilometer contention — conscionable implicit 31 miles — requires much than method skill, helium said. “You person to beryllium stubborn.”



While galore of Holmenkollen’s traditions person endured, and winners inactive get an assemblage with Norway’s king, today’s events are hardly recognizable from the area’s archetypal skis races, which began successful 1892 and took contestants arsenic agelong arsenic 5 and a fractional hours to complete.

Many of the aboriginal competitors were woodsmen who sometimes had to skis farther to get to the bid to Oslo than the 30 oregon truthful miles they would contention erstwhile they arrived. The astir elite racers looked antithetic then, too; adjacent arsenic the timepiece ticked, immoderate would halt to devour steaks and recharge with a substance of java and alcohol, Gotaas said.

Athletes tin present screen the 50-kilometer region successful little than 2 hours. They enactment astatine a luxury edifice adjacent to the trails overlooking Oslo. And they are full-time racers, with cause testers who cod humor and urine samples astatine the decorativeness and endorsement deals that enactment their faces connected advertisements astatine the nearest metro stop.

The astir caller alteration astatine Holmenkollen is 1 that galore said was overdue: This twelvemonth was the archetypal successful which women raced the afloat 50-kilometer distance, up from the 19 miles, oregon 30 kilometers, they had skied for decades.


The extended women’s lawsuit came amid a broader statement astir equalizing distances successful cross-country skiing, wherever men inactive contention doubly arsenic acold arsenic women successful immoderate Olympic and satellite title events. The sermon has revealed a astonishing level of absorption among pistillate European skiers, immoderate of whom person said they fearfulness audiences volition tune retired if their races instrumentality excessively long. Other apical competitors were blessed to skis the other miles. In the debut race, the Norwegians Ragnhild Gloersen Haga and Astrid Oyre Slind took the apical 2 places.

Slind, a region specialist, was skiing her 3rd agelong contention successful conscionable implicit a week. After a 30-kilometer contention successful Slovenia the erstwhile Saturday, she had hopped connected a sponsor’s level to Sweden, slept 3 hours and placed 5th retired of much than 2,000 women successful a 55-mile contention there.

“It’s not a large thing,” she said. “I’m benignant of utilized to it.”

The American Jessie Diggins, a three-time Olympic medalist, placed 3rd aft battling musculus cramps for fractional the race. She was portion of a assemblage of U.S. athletes and coaches that led a run to equalize distances successful Oslo and elsewhere connected the planetary circuit.

“Imagine, we didn’t request to beryllium carted disconnected successful an ambulance,” Diggins said Sunday, her sarcasm arsenic heavy arsenic the snow.



Diggins, 31, has go a favourite successful Norway, wherever spectators pridefulness themselves connected their enthusiasm for the planetary tract — with the exception, perhaps, of their rivals from Sweden. One Norwegian instrumentality nine has adjacent serenaded Diggins with a personalized opus astatine events. (Its lyrics include: “She looks similar she’s a teen; she’s amended than the queen.”)

You person to beryllium drunk erstwhile you sing the song, Diggins said, an acknowledgment of conscionable however overmuch a portion of Norwegian skis fandom intoxicant has become.

“Norwegians don’t speech to each different unless they’re drinking,” said Espen Antonsen, 32, who camped with a fewer friends on the way implicit the weekend.

One twelvemonth astatine Holmenkollen, Antonsen said, helium drank with the begetter of an Olympic medalist, producing photographic proof.

“He was drunk and I was drunk,” Antonsen said. “And it was truly fun.”

That proximity to athletes and their families is besides a portion of the Holmenkollen charm. Fans tin locomotion crossed the contention way astatine designated points, hurl insults astatine Swedes from good wrong earshot and manus sausages, waffles and drinks crossed the obstruction to athletes who autumn disconnected the leaders’ pace.



“I’ve had plentifulness of atrocious races successful Holmenkollen wherever I’ve been disconnected the back,” Musgrave said. “So I’ve had my stock of brew and shots.” He crossed the enactment successful 11th spot Saturday, presumably escaped of waffles and aquavit, a Scandinavian liquor.

The festival is astatine its loudest and astir boisterous astatine Frognerseteren, wherever the loop reaches the apical of a elevation astatine its astir distant constituent from the stadium. Thousands of fans, mostly determination to enactment and galore of them successful their 20s, capable the woods successful clip for the 10 a.m. start, shovel retired their ain seating areas and crook the people into a passageway of noise.

For Norwegian athletes, that benignant of ambiance makes winning astatine Holmenkollen an accomplishment to rival an Olympic medal. Before the satellite championships were held astatine the venue successful 2011, the Norway prima Petter Northug Jr. spent years grooming specifically for the 50-kilometer race. When helium yet won it, helium recovered himself lacking purpose.

“Some days, I didn’t get retired of furniture due to the fact that I’d won the 50k successful Oslo,” Northug said successful an interview. “What was determination much to win?”



Holmenkollen’s two-hour races, which are televised nationally, person shown enduring popularity successful Norway adjacent arsenic organizers accidental they present vie with different events successful the metropolis and Netflix for the attraction of some fans and the adjacent procreation of racers.

If anything, the biggest menace to the lawsuit whitethorn beryllium Norway’s dominance of cross-country skiing. In the men’s contention Saturday, Norwegians took the archetypal 10 spots successful the last results. Athletes and coaches connected the planetary circuit person agelong said that much nations request to beryllium vying for the podium to prolong the involvement and tv rights income extracurricular Scandinavia that prolong the sport.

“We are truly bully successful cross-country skiing,” Martin Johnsrud Sundby, a Norwegian Olympian turned commentator, said aft his country’s dominating performances astatine the satellite championships this month. “But it’s not bully to beryllium bully successful cross-country skiing if cipher other is good.”

Events similar those astatine Holmenkollen are what effect Norway’s strategy with caller stars. While the partying astatine Frognerseteren draws overmuch of the attention, those camping and cheering connected different parts of the people see children who past get hooked.



“I speech astir it each day,” said William Rannekleiv Kjendlie, 12, who camped this twelvemonth with his begetter successful the household area, successful a structure fitted with a wood stove and carnal skins.

Iver Tildheim Andersen, a 22-year-old Norwegian phenom who finished 4th Saturday, said being a portion of the immense crowds astatine Northug’s triumph successful 2011 persuaded him to articulation a skis nine and commencement training.

“I was conscionable chilling and eating blistery dogs and having fun,” Andersen said. “It was like, ‘Maybe I tin contention successful Holmenkollen 1 day, and acquisition the aforesaid stuff.’”

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