It’s not often that an athlete receives a state funeral, but Hjalmar “Hjallis” Andersen wasn’t just any athlete in Norway. King Harald, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and hundreds of other Norwegians packed the cathedral in Tønsberg on Thursday to literally say “goodbye” to one of their greatest post-war heroes.
“He belonged to all of us,” said the cathedral’s dean (domprost) David Gjerp, who led the lengthy funeral service that, as he said, “gathered an entire nation” in the cathedral of the ancient Viking and maritime capital where Hjallis lived for more than 50 of his 90 years. The legendary speed skater, who continued to be an inspiration long after his active skating career ended, died during the Easter holidays last week after suffering a fall at his home in Tønsberg.
Originally from Trondheim, Hjallis played an important role during a time of nation-building following the war years of occupation. “Hjallis skated his way into the hearts of us all,” Stoltenberg said during the funeral that his government decreed would be paid for by the state. That’s one of the highest honours any Norwegian can receive, and Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) aired the entire funeral ceremony live on national television Thursday afternoon.
During a time of shortages and ration cards, the world records that Hjallis set in the early 1950s and the world championships and Olympic medals that he won vastly lifted Norwegian spirits. “We won when he won,” Stoltenberg said. “Little Norway beat the whole world!” He stressed how lucky Norway was “to have people like Hjallis” at a critical juncture in the nation’s modern history.
The speed skater who went on to boost not only Norwegian sport but the country’s maritime industry and seafarers worldwide was also well known for his good humour. In addition to being called Norway’s “skating king,” he was granted the unofficial title of Kong Glad (King Happy) because he simply seemed so happy at all times. Gjerp recalled that when admiring a photo of Hjallis taken with the late King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav and Prince Harald at the time, it was referred to as a photo of “en konge og tre kongelige” (a king, and three royals), invoking laughter from the congregation.
“We’re here to thank him,” Gjerp said, and thanked Hjallis was, by a long list of speakers that included his daughter, a grandson, sports officials and the mayor of Trondheim in addition to the prime minister. Finance Minister Sigbjørn was also seated in the front row, alongside Stoltenberg and King Harald.
Amidst all the music, from Kjærlighet (Love) to Elise Båtnes’ violin solo of Ave Maria and ending with a stirring rendition of Time to say goodbye sung by local tenor Marius Roth Christensen, Hjallis did indeed receive his last wreaths. “He won medals and peoples’ hearts,” said Vibecke Sørensen, president of the Norwegian skating association. No Norwegian sports star has ever risen higher than Hjalmar Andersen, said Børre Rognlien, president of the national athletics federation Norges Idresttsforbund. Few if any have received such national gratitude.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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