Two Canadians at Ski-VM
March 3, 2011
COMMENTARY: Lady Luck is shining down on me. I am Canadian, and out of two whole weeks of competition at the FIS World Ski Championships (Ski-VM) in Oslo, the day I had tickets was the day the Canadians would win gold. It was thrilling to watch, with Canada, Norway, Sweden and Finland toying with the first three spots for most of the race, and Russia speeding into third place in the end. Norway crossed the finish line second, and…CANADA CAME FIRST!!!!!
Wednesday March 2, 2011 was a historic day indeed, as Canada had never won a medal at the World Ski Championships. It was a thrilling moment to witness as a patriotic Canadian and sports enthusiast – but my Canadian politeness prevents me from revelling in our victory any further. There has been a great deal of media coverage in Oslo of Ski-VM and the preparations for it, so I will merely describe what it was like to attend this major event that has brought athletes from around 60 nations and thousands of skiing fans to the Norwegian capital.
The day began with a metro ride up the mountain, where we shared seats and standing room with all kinds of fans, young and old, displaying painted faces and twirling flags (Norwegian flags, mostly). Because this was the Holmenkollen Express and the driver had no stops to announce, he played music over the speaker system instead. Despite the foggy weather conditions and packed train, and despite the fact that many Norwegian citizens have had serious complaints about Ski-VM, people were happy and the mood was high. After all, children and parents were playing hookie from school and work, grandparents were joining in, others had traveled from far and wide, and everyone was excited to watch their fellow country people compete.
The type of ticket we had was a day pass, and given that yesterday was one of the busiest days of the championship, we were looking forward to watching the action in all three World Ski Championship events: Ski Jumping, Nordic Combined, and Cross Country. In the past, people without tickets to events at Holmenkollen have set up in nearby areas and observed from a distance, but because of the fog (and because of tighter restrictions by the organizers this year), that would not have been possible yesterday. The visibility was so bad that even from the base of the new Holmenkollen Ski Jump, where we had standing-room tickets, the crowd could not see the jumpers take off – rather the jumpers would materialize out of thin air. In fact, from the road that runs beside the bowl of the Holmenkollen, you could not even see that the 134-metre tall, 1000-tonne ski jump existed. This means that in all likelihood, the ski jumpers could not see where they were landing until they were halfway there.
Yet the weather did not much dampen the spirit of the crowd. The roar and cheer that followed the announcement of an upcoming Norwegian competitor was unmistakeable. Being two Canadians in a sea of Norwegians, we also happily noticed the eager clapping and whooping that the crowd offered in support of all athletes. This was our first time attending a big sporting event in Norway (before that we had only been to Norwegian hockey games) and we were quite impressed. Norwegians are known for being a proud, close-knit group, and for holding skiing dear to their hearts, but they are plainly happy to share that enthusiasm with the world. Even the Canadian winners commented on how loud the crowd cheered as the race ended, comparing it to the notoriously spirited crowds at Stanley Cup hockey games (and that is saying something!).
Our only negative experience of Ski-VM was the overcrowded “standing room zones” at the cross-country skiing events. While cheering alongside sportsmanlike members of a crowd is a warm, fuzzy, and unifying experience, having them push you from behind, step on your feet to get past, or use your shoulders as a support post between the stands and the stairs is a little much. The volunteers seemed to have little control over the crowd (in our zone at least), as people hardly paid attention to volunteers urging them to move deeper into the stands. But you cannot blame the people – they paid dearly for their tickets and needed to find a place to watch the competitions. The organizers of the next event at Holmenkollen might simply sell fewer tickets in each standing room zone or task more volunteers per section to avoid a repeat of the situation.
It was, though, a fantastic day. The transportation system worked well, the line-ups for admission and to buy refreshments were managed efficiently, spirits were high, and the volunteers were helpful. Ski-VM organizers couldn’t do anything about the weather. Maybe next time they will rethink arrangements in the standing room zones, and will consider reinstating the gratishaugen (a previously free viewing area).
In the meantime, Canadians in Norway and abroad are bursting with pride about the historic win of a gold medal in the cross country team sprint, and I feel so lucky to have been there. Hip hip hooray, for Alex and Devon!