Thousands of eager skiers were ready once again to race their way over the mountains of southeastern Norway during the weekend, and they faced an especially cold ordeal. This year’s famed “Birkebeinerrennet” nonetheless was fully booked months ago even though it was being held on the same day as the men’s 50-kilometer World Cup race at Holmenkollen.
“It’s too bad that two such major races should collide like that,” Eldar Rønning, who won last year’s 50-kilometer race at Holmenkollen, told newspaper Dagsavisen. He opted to compete in the 54-kilometer Birkebeiner this year, because of its classic style. At Holmenkollen, racers can choose their technique, and Rønning thought his chances were much better in the classic race that runs over the mountain from Rena in Østerdalen to Lillehammer in Gudbrandsdalen.
An extra, preliminary Birkebeiner race on Friday was also a cold event but helped meet demand among racers. With temperatures at the start predicted to be down around minus-18C, Rønning and the roughly 17,000 others competing in Saturday’s race were in for a chilly day. He’ll be up against the long-distance racing Aukland brothers, who placed first and third in the even longer Vasalöppet race in Sweden earlier this season, and Jørgen Brink. He remained one of the favourites, though, and the fastest so-called “elite” skiers were expected to already have completed the trek before the 50K started at Holmenkollen Saturday afternoon.
Some of the other Birkebeiner participants may use all day to complete the race and among them was 93-year-old Tollef Sverdrup, who was taking part for the 45th time. His goal, according to Birkebeinerrennet’s web site, was simply to cross the finish line, perhaps with the same time he had last year: 11 hours and 14 minutes.
“What’s most important is that it’s fun, exciting and that there are lots of people out on the trails,” Sverdrup told birken.no (external link, in Norwegian). “In addition, the course runs through fantastic, fine terrain. The time you take isn’t so important.”
Meanwhile, back in Oslo, Norwegian skiing star Petter Northug was the favourite in the men’s 50K on Saturday. The women’s race 30-kilometer World Cup race was scheduled for Sunday this year, just before the ski jumpers start flying off the newly rebuilt Holmenkollen Ski Jump. Both men and women would be jumping in the same event this year.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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