Thousands head for Holmenkollen

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Organizers aren’t expecting as many spectators as in years past, but  thousands of winter sports fans will once again head for the hills above Oslo this weekend for the annual World Cup competitions in Nordic skiing and ski jumping. Around 25,000 are expected on Sunday, when the world’s top skiers will hurl themselves off the Holmenkollen Ski Jump.

Crowds were expected at Holmenkollen in Oslo once again this weekend, like here when the new ski jump was used for the first time in 2010. PHOTO: Views and News

That compares to as many as 100,000 fans in the glory days of ski jumping at Holmenkollen – crowds were estimated at fully 120,000 spectators during the Winter Olympics as long ago as 1952. “But today we’re competing with so many other things,” Per Bergerud, chairman of World Cup Nordic 2012, also known as Holmenkollrennene in Norway, told newspaper Aftenposten earlier this week. His own personal crowd estimate was around 18,000, far less than the new arenas at Holmenkollen can accommodate.

“When I won at Holmenkollen in 1979, there were around 60,000 in the stands,” Bergerud, a former ski jumper himself. This year, he points out, Holmenkollen already has been the site of world championships in snowboarding and World Cup biathlon competition, while the world championships in ski flying were held at Vikersund, not far from Oslo. “We had to wait with our public relations campaign,” Bergerud said.

But now he and fellow organizers, not least those at ski association Skiforeningen, hope the public will turn out for Holmenkollen and support what’s been a traditional climax of the winter sports season in Oslo for the past century. It’s costing NOK 18 million to arrange the three-day event, and around NOK 12 million of that is supposed to come from ticket sales, according to Bergerud.

Veteran bows out
Events were to kick off on Friday with athletes competing in the combined ski-jumping and cross-country ski racing events jumping off the smaller Midstubakken just below Holmenkollen. The women’s ski jumping competition starts there just after 1pm, followed by the combined 10-kilometer ski race on the trails around Holmenkollen.

On Saturday, events start at 10:30am and will include combined ski jumping off Holmenkollen and the men’s tough 50-kilometer classic ski race (where they’ll ski an 8.3-kilometer route around Holmenkollen eight times). Norwegian skiing star Petter Northug won’t be skiing because of stomach problems, but another Norwegian veteran, Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeseth, was expected to draw cheers from the home crowd when he competes in the last 50-mile World Cup race of his career before retiring.

A 15-kilometer race for the combined skiers and jumpers gets underway at 3:30pm Saturday, followed by a youth relay and men’s ski jumping qualification off the Holmenkollen jump in the early evening.

Sunday is the biggest day of the annual Holmenkollen ski festival, with a 30-kilometer World Cup race for the women and World Cup ski jumping off Holmenkollen from 2pm.

Hard-core campers, and royals, too
Organizers had also cleared space for the most enthusiastic and, arguably, special ski racing fans who opt to camp out in the snow near the trails during the entire weekend. They pitch tents or even sleep under the stars when they’re not partying, and then make lots of noise as they cheer on racers during the day. Skiforeningen officials arranged firewood sales and lavatory facilities and said campers were welcome from Friday until Monday.

As usual, members of the royal family will also be in place to cheer on the skiers and jumpers, with King Harald and his sister Princess Astrid already planning to head for Holmenkollen Friday afternoon.

With little if any parking available at Holmenkollen, the public needs to take public transport up to the hills, or walk, as many traditionally do. Bergerud claimed Oslo’s newly renovated T-bane (metro) was able to carry 9,000 persons an hour on the Holmenkollen line during major events. Spectators were advised to start early, not least because some train traffic Oslo’s Central Station would be halted from Saturday to Sunday to allow for maintenance work on the tracks. The weather forecast, meanwhile, called for some sunshine and relatively warm temperatures.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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