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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Skofterud savours Vasaloppet victory

Cross-country skiing champion Vibeke Skofterud defied her coach’s wishes and became the first Norwegian woman to win the tough 90-kilometer-long Vasaloppet race in Sweden on Sunday. Things didn’t go as well for the Norwegian men in the race, even though several had been among the favourites.

Vibeke Skofterud saved Norway's honour in Sunday's famed Vasaloppet race in Sweden, and set a new record, too. PHOTO: Vasaloppet

Skofterud, who has won both world championships and Olympic gold in relay races for Norway’s national team, claims she loves long distances but had never attempted anything like the Vasaloppet, an historic route that winds from Sälen in west-central Sweden all the way to Mora in the heart of the country’s culturally rich Dalarna district.

The 31-year-old Skofterud from Slitu in Norway’s Østfold County, southeast of Oslo, ended up smashing the previous record set by a female racer in 1998, skiing the entire 90 kilometers in just four hours, eight minutes and 24 seconds. Another Norwegian woman, Laila Kveli, finished only three minutes later, followed by Seraina Boner of Switzerland, who took third place.

For Skofterud, it was a rare opportunity to ski over the finish line not only with the traditional winner’s wreath around her neck, but carrying the Norwegian flag as well. She told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she’s always so envious of national teammate Marit Bjørgen, who so often wins bigs races, and she savoured the chance to wave the flag herself.

Skoferud’s marathon ski run on Sunday wasn’t without drama. Newspaper Aftenposten reported how she’d fallen ill with food poisoning just two weeks ago and had to leave the national team’s training camp in Seiser Alm. And early in her Vasaloppet debut Sunday morning, she dropped her ski pole and had to turn back to retrieve it. “When I dropped the pole, I thought the game was up,” she told Vasaloppet’s website (external link). “But I tried to keep calm and after I’d passed 45-kilometers (27 miles, the half-way point), it felt good and I thought then it’s just to keep on going.”

Swedes led the men
The top Norwegian male skiers, who had attracted most of the media hype in the run-up to Vasaloppet, didn’t do nearly as well as Skofterud, who, it should be noted, had a winning time just a half-hour behind the winner of the men’s category, Jørgen Brink of Hudiksvall, Sweden. Brink won for the third year in a row, also with a record time of three hours, 38 minutes and 41 seconds. Daniel Tynell, also of Sweden, finished second and Stanislav Rezac of the Czech Republic was third.

Veteran Norwegian skier Thomas Alsgaard had been a favourite to win the famous race but had to drop out when he got sick on Saturday. “I woke up with a sore throat,” he told NRK. “I just wasn’t able to go nine hard mil (a mil, roughly pronounced “meel,” is the equivalent of 10 kilomters in Norwegian).” The 40-year-old former Olympic and world champion was bitterly disappointed, noting how he’d been training for the race for the last half-year.

Norwegian star skier Petter Northug had also dropped out, but 14,212 others actually started the race Sunday morning. Vasaloppet has evolved into a full week of winter sports events and races, attracting around 60,000 participants. Among them on Sunday were several celebrities skiing either the full Vasaloppet or shorter versions, including 43-year-old Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark who covered the 90 kilometers in six hours and 36 minutes, and 28-year-old Pippa Middleton, the new sister-in-law of British Prince William. She skied the full course in seven hours and 13 minutes, a time dubbed “highly respectable” by race commentators. Her younger brother James Middleton also skied the full course, in just six hours 47 minutes, and race organizers said they raised more money for charity than the amount of the Vasaloppet’s first-place prize of SEK 75,000 (about USD 10,000).

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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