Cross-country skier Petter Northug, biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen and alpine skier Aksel Lund Svindal are modern-day ski heroes with whom Norwegians like to identify. Along with the other Norwegian Olympic hopefuls they are travelling to Vancouver with the goal of bringing home the gold (or at least the silver or bronze), carrying their bags weighted with tradition.
To the Poles on skis
People in the Nordic region and Siberia have used skis for hunting and trapping in the winter since pre-historic times. In Norway, skis have evolved from a means of transportation to a symbol of national identity. The country is home to a long line of fearless explorers who used skis to traverse the most inhospitable of terrains, such as Roald Amundsen, the first person to reach the South Pole, and Liv Arnesen, the first woman to cross the South Pole on her own.
The cradle of skiing
Norwegian Sondre Norheim is recognised as the pioneer of modern skiing. In addition to being a brilliant cross-country and slalom skier and ski jumper, he was an innovator of skis and bindings. Norwegians are raised on the image of Norheim sailing on skis over the rooftops in his home village of Morgedal, which has been dubbed “the cradle of skiing”. The first Winter Olympic Games were held in Chamonix, France, in 1924 – 100 years after Norheim was born. Now, as then, Norway’s aspirations are high and the country is sending a number of high-profile skiers to compete.
Biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen – one of the most prize-winning skiers of all times . Photo: Norwegian Biathlon AssociationBjoerndalen Valley
Biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen won the first of his four individual Olympic gold medals 12 years ago, and will be participating in the Winter Games for the fourth time. A living legend in his sport, he has even had a segment of an Olympic ski trail in Vancouver named after him – Bjoerndalen Valley.The Comeback Kid
For years Aksel Lund Svindal has been one of the world’s best alpine skiers, winning World Championship medals in gold, silver and bronze and capturing the overall World Cup title in the 2006-2007 season. A brutal fall in 2007 at Beaver Creek, Colorado, in which he sustained serious injuries, brought his career to a halt. However, Lund Svindal recovered and made his way back to the top, winning the overall World Cup title again in 2008-2009. He will be competing for his first Olympic medal in Vancouver.
Pushing the envelope
Bjørndalen, Lund Svindal, cross-country skiers Petter Northug and Marit Bjørgen, snowboarder Kjersti Buaas and other well-known Norwegian skiers have one thing in common – they work tirelessly to push the envelope of performance and innovation. They know that is the only way to become an Olympic medallist or the first person to reach the South Pole.
The Olympic Games are more than fierce competition for honour and glory – the games also nurture the practice of fair play. The importance of this was made clear in Torino in 2006. When a Canadian competing in the women’s team sprint broke her pole, Bjørnar Håkensmoen, head of the Norwegian cross-country team, was quick to give her a new one, and Canada went on to win the silver medal.
On behalf of the Canadian people, Canada’s ambassador to Norway, Jillian Stirk, presented Bjørnar Håkensmoen with 7,400 cans of maple syrup. Photo: Embassy of Canada in NorwayRewarded with maple syrup
Håkensmoen’s good deed may have cost Norway a place on the pedestal, but he earned the gratitude of the Canadians. People from all over Canada sent cans of maple syrup – an astonishing five tonnes in all – with thank-you notes attached. There was so much maple syrup that the Canadian ambassador to Norway ended up sailing along the Norwegian coastline on the Hurtigruten coastal steamer, serving pancakes with syrup.
Tradition still important
In Vancouver the competition will be tougher than ever. Norwegian skiers will not have an easier time just because Norway won the race to the South Pole or is the birthplace of modern skiing. The historic feats of ski legends are just that – history. Nevertheless, skiing traditions will still play an important role, whether they are thousands of years old like Norway’s or more recently established like some of the other countries participating in the Winter Games.
Medals and maple syrup
It is the combination of tradition, innovation and fair play that gives the Olympic Games its unique flavour and character. Existing and emerging ski heroes alike will have the time of their lives, whether or not they bring home one of the much-coveted medals. The number of medals may be limited, but in Canada there is enough maple syrup for everyone.