More than 100,000 hailed skiing stars
March 5, 2011
Oslo police estimated that around 120,000 persons gathered in downtown Oslo Saturday night to watch their winter sports heroes get their medals, after at least 100,000 had lined the ski tracks and filled the arenas at Holmenkollen during the day. The athletes and even the organizers of the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships (Ski-VM) were overwhelmed.
It was the 10th night in a row that the streets in the heart of the Norwegian capital were packed by cheering crowds waving flags. On Saturday, the star attraction was 22-year-old Therese Johaug, who overpowered teammate and skiing queen Marit Bjørgen to win the gold medal in the women’s test of endurance: The 30-kilometer (18-mile) race.
Johaug, a stylish and cheerful blonde from the small village of Dalsbygda in western Norway, literally seemed to fly over the ski trails, completing the course in just one hour, 23 minutes and 41.1 seconds. For the first time in more than a week, the fog and grey skies had cleared, bathing the ski trails in sunshine and offering panoramic views over the city and the Oslo Fjord.
All eyes were on Johaug, though, after she broke away from the pack and distanced herself more and more from her nearest rivals. At one point she was more than a full minute ahead of both Bjørgen, who already had won an historic four gold medals at the world championships, and Olympic champion Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland.
It ended with Johaug assured of the gold while Bjørgen and Kowalczyk battled for the silver. Bjørgen won, leaving Kowalczyk with the bronze.
The ski trails were lined with spectators along the route while the grandstands in the arenas at Holmenkollen were packed. It was an amazing spectacle, showing Norwegian fans at their most enthusiastic and impressing the foreigners among them. The 51 skiers in the race from all over the world seemed thrilled by the reception they all received, with the woman from Brazil who finished last, more than half-hour after Johaug, telling Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she’d never experienced anything like the crowds at Holmenkollen.
Johaug enjoyed her day in the sun, throwing herself into the arms of King Harald and then Queen Sonja like they were family members when she made her honorary trip up to the royal box. She thanked everyone from her parents to those who prepared her skis and the fans, and sang along with the national anthem as Norway’s flag was hoisted yet again on Saturday night before the huge crowd.
The men’s ski-jumping team competition, meanwhile, began a few hours after the 30K race ended, and again, the stands were filled to the bursting point. Strong winds, however, forced cancellation of the second round of jumping even though the new and expensive Holmenkollen Ski Jump was supposed to be protected from wind problems.
The cancellation meant that the results from the first round stood as world championship results, once again propelling Austria onto the winners’ podium with the gold medal, followed by Norway with silver and Slovenia with bronze.
The Austrians’ dominance in ski jumping tied them with Norway’s gold medal count, at seven, and gave them a total of 10. Norway, however, remained well ahead, topping the medals’ count with 18 as of Saturday evening: Seven in gold, six in silver and five in bronze. Sweden was third in the medals race, with a total of five, two of them in gold.
Sunday was to mark the last day of the week-and-a-half-long world championships, with the men’s 50-kilometer race. Petter Northug, who caused a big fuss when he won gold again in the men’s relay on Friday, was favoured.