NEWS COMMENTARY: The emotional outpouring over a skier’s misguided jump this week has amounted to one of those “only in Norway” sorts of stories. It says a lot about priorities in this small but often passionate country, for better or worse.
There aren’t many other places in the world where a skier’s jump would dominate the first 10 minutes of the national broadcaster’s nightly news, attract widespread coverage in newspapers all over the country and set off a debate that was still playing on local radio three days after it occurred.
But this is Norway, where winter sports, national landmarks and politics play huge roles. In this case, all three were involved.
It all started with the completion of the new Holmenkollen Ski Jump, the latest and wildly expensive version of a ski jump that’s been part of the national heritage for more than a century. It was supposed to cost around NOK 500 million, but the final price tag for the ski jump and adjoining winter sports facilities exploded to NOK 1.8 billion (about USD 300 million) and forced the resignation of the city official in charge.
It was the 18th reconstruction of the main ski jump at Holmenkollen, which actually is the name of a hill rising over the northwest portion of Oslo. Next year’s Nordic World Championships will be held at Holmenkollen, and that’s what justified the huge project — politicians and sports officials fought hard to win the right to host the World Championships, and they required a modern ski jump.
The new Holmenkollen has thus immediately become Oslo’s new “national treasure,” as newspaper Aftenposten crowed on Friday. It was ready in time for the preliminary World Championships, to be held in mid-March, and a series of other sporting events throughout the month including the annual Holmenkollen Ski Festival. Everyone was supposed to be ready to cheer and bask in the glow of top-rated new facilities.
Instead, Olympic and World Cup ski jumper Bjørn Einar Romøren (ohoto) is being blamed for getting the party of to a very poor start. He made a test jump on Tuesday that stripped female jumper Anette Sagen of the honor of actually being the first high-profile ski jumper off the new Holmenkollen, and the screaming has been going on ever since.
Why is this so important in Norway? Because it was considered unsportsmanlike, it defied a decision made by city leaders to have Sagen jump first, it highlighted the arrogance of male sports bureaucrats who let Romøren jump, and because it immediately tarnished the image of the new Holmenkollen. The offending jump showed a lack of respect that Norwegian civic leaders simply can’t tolerate, and Romøren has been duly punished.
Mostly, the entire affair simply took the shine off what was supposed to be a celebration of Holmenkollen and a cheerful start to weeks of competition in a country that takes sports quite seriously. And it was all starting up just after Norway’s strong performance at the Winter Olympics, where the country of 4.7 million grabbed 23 medals and its athletes were hailed for “doing their job.”
Romøren didn’t do a good job. He’s due to be back in action for official competition at Holmenkollen March 14. It’s unlikely Norwegians will boo him, but he’d best not expect the traditional “Holmenkollen roar” from the crowd.