Sweden won gold in the end, but Norwegian winter sports fans were already cheering over their own pile of medals at the Nordic World Championships in Italy as they headed into the weekend – and then the pile rose even higher. Meanwhile, back home, another Norwegian was winning the biathlon World Cup in Oslo and downhill racer Aksel Lund Svindal roared to World Cup victory himself at Kvitfjell. When Norwegians even won the tough Vasaloppet race in Sweden, the supremacy seemed assured, until Swedish skier Johan Olsson outdid himself back in Italy.
It was a wild weekend for skiing enthusiasts, with so many major international competitions going on at the same time. Norwegians finished at the top of most of them, except for the men’s grueling 50-kilometer mass start race at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships at Val di Fiemme on Sunday.
Sweden’s Johan Olsson won the praise and respect of everyone including Norway’s Petter Northug, known for teasing the Swedes at every opportunity. He had sashayed over the finish line in the men’s relay on Friday, bringing the Norwegian’s gold medal count to seven at that point, but he ended a lowly 21st in the 50K on Sunday after simply running out of steam during the last three- to four kilometers. Olsson was unbeatable, pulling out of the pack after just 12 kilometers and staying firmly ahead throughout the rest of one of the toughest endurance contests in the world.
“Olsson deserved to be World Champion,” Northug conceded when the race, and the World Championships themselves, finally ended in the Italian Alps. And he was full of unusual praise for a Swedish rival: “He (Olsson) was fantastic. It’s incredibly impressive what he did today. He has been number-two so many times.” Asked by an equally incredulous team from Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), “so you’re standing here and cheering a Swede, Petter?”, Northug responded, “Yes I am.” Olsson received the praise in the most dignified manner: “Petter is a great athlete. I have all respect for him.” Dario Cologna of Switzerland was second in the 50K, and Alexey Poltoranin of Kazakhstan as third.
The Norwegians otherwise reigned supreme overall in the World Championships, with eight gold medals after Norway’s undisputed ski queen Marit Bjørgen claimed victory once again on Saturday in the women’s 30-kilometer race. Therese Johaug of Norway won the bronze, bringing the total medal count to 19 for the Norwegians. Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk took the silver in that race, commenting later that “Marit was the strongest” on Saturday.
Back home in Oslo, Tora Berger secured her World Cup victory in the biathlon during competition at Holmenkollen with King Harald V looking on. Her victory in the mass start gave her enough points to put her firmly at the top of her sport for this season, after also claiming several World Championships just a few weeks ago.
Farther north, on the steep mountain of Kvitfjell in the Norwegian valley called Gudbrandsdalen, alpine skiing star Aksel Lund Svindal claimed his first victory on home turf at the site where the men’s competition was held during the 1994 Winter Olympics at Lillehammer. Svindal, despite all his victories over the years, had never won at Kvitfjell but changed that on Sunday with a run that was viewed as “outclassing” the competition. Georg Streitberger of Austria was second and Werner Heel of Italy was third.
Svindal’s latest World Cup victory came just two days after he won a silver medal in the downhill. The ever-smiling skier was happy about that, too, but his 21st career win in the World Cup was best.
Victory in Sweden, too
As if the victories by Svindal, Berger and the Norwegians skiing in the Nordic World Championships weren’t enough, Norwegians also won this year’s Vasaloppet in Sweden in both the men’s and women’s classes. Long-distance skier Jørgen Aukland won the prestigious 90-kilometer race for the second time, and his brother Anders placed third.
Jørgen Aukland, now 37 years old, won the race for the first time in 2008 and told Swedish television SVT that he was “incredibly glad.” The Swede favoured to win the race, Jørgen Brink, wound up in fourth place, with another Swede, Daniel Tynell, placing second.
Norwegians haven’t won the historic race very often, and this year they claimed both the men’s and women’s titles, with Laila Kveli from Lierne in Nord-Trøndelag finishing a full one minute and 28 seconds ahead of her closest rival. It was a historic victory for Norway in the traditional race from Sälen to Mora in Dalarna, which attracted more than 15,000 participants this year but fewer Norwegians than in previous years.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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