One of Norway’s top ski jumpers has been banned from competing in two World Cup events this weekend, after he spoiled the ceremonial opening of Oslo’s new Holmenkollen Ski Jump. Debate is flying, though, over whether his punishment is too harsh.
Bjørn Einar Romøren (shown at right in recent action at the Winter Olympics) made a big mistake when he made what he still claims was “only a test jump” off the new Holmenkollen on Tuesday evening. Norway’s pioneering female ski jumper, Anette Sagen, had won the honor of being the first to jump off Holmenkollen at opening ceremonies Wednesday, so everyone from political leaders to sports fans viewed Romøren’s jump as an effort by Romøren and the male sports bureaucrats around him to steal the honor of being first away from Sagen.
Reaction was swift and brutal. Romøren has been blasted from all sides, as have the two male ski jumping officials who cleared him for the test jump, Roar Gaustad and Torgeir Nordby. It’s since emerged that Åsne Havnelid, the female head of the organizing committee for next year’s Nordic World Championships, was also on hand when Romøren jumped, but claimed she gave clear orders that Romøren should not be allowed to be first.
Until late Thursday, questions remained over who was actually responsible for Romøren’s offending jump, and who should be penalized. Top Norwegian sports officials announced Thursday night, however, that they were placing the blame squarely on Romøren. They decided that he wouldn’t be allowed to participate in this weekend’s World Cup ski jumping in Lahti and Kuopio in Finland.
Romøren, who had apologized to Sagen earlier but continued to defend his jump, finally seemed truly sorry for what he’d done. Fighting back tears, the 28-year-old ski jumper told reporters he was “sorry for my poor judgment,” and that he was “very sorry” in general.
Clas Brede Bråthen, widely referred to as “sports chief” in local media, said Norway’s ski jumping committee was never in doubt that Romøren’s premature jump off Holmenkollen would have consequences. Bråthen claimed that Romøren and those who let him jump showed an utter lack of respect for the city’s decision to bestow the honor on Sagen, for the symbolic role Holmenkollen plays in Norway, and for Sagen herself and her efforts to raise the status of female jumpers.
Gaustad and Nordby can also expect some form of punishment, Bråthen told newspaper Aftenposten, “but that’s another whole process … and will be handled by the highest levels of skiing authorities in Norway.”
Both Gaustad and Nordby tried to belatedly take responsibility for Romøren’s jump, and protect their ski jumping star from punitive action. Former Olympic jumper Espen Bredesen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday that he thinks the ban on Romøren is too harsh, and a university professor said it was wrong for Romøren to take all the blame. Some believe Romøren is the scapegoat in the entire controversy.
Mika Kojonkoski, the Finnish coach of the Norwegian men’s ski jumping team, reportedly has equated the entire conflict to a power-play over Holmenkollen. Other commentators have agreed, claiming that the ski-jumping bureaucrats like Gaustad, who earlier had stated that he thought Romøren should jump first instead of Sagen, simply were determined to get their way and in doing so, displayed shocking arrogance.