Celebrities shone as ‘birkebeiners’

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Crown Prince Haakon was among the locally well-known Norwegians to complete the tough Birkebeiner ski race over the weekend, along with former Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and violinist Arve Tellefsen. The crown prince, age 41, skied the 54-kilometer (32-mile) course in what sports commentators called an “impressive” three hours, 36 minutes and 12 seconds.

Crown Prince Haakon finished the 54-kilometer-long Birkebeiner race in just over three-and-a-half hours. He was one of more than 10,000 skiers taking part in the annual race over the mountains. PHOTO: Geir Olsen/Birken

Crown Prince Haakon (at right, in red) finished the 54-kilometer-long Birkebeiner race in just over three-and-a-half hours. He was one of more than 10,000 skiers taking part in the annual race over the mountains. PHOTO: Geir Olsen/Birken

The heir to the throne of Norway was skiing in Birkebeiner for the first time in the age class 40-44 years, and his finishing time was low enough to qualify for the coveted merke that’s won with a good result. Crown Prince Haakon said he was happy with both his own performance and the race itself, which took place under clear sunny skies and near perfect conditions.

“The Birkebeiner race as an event is great, and not least the contribution made by all the volunteers who make sure the race is held year after year,” Haakon said after he’d crossed the finish line.

Former Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who now leads the opposition in Parliament, was proud to call himself a "birkebeiner" after taking part for the first time. PHOTO: birken.no

Former Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who now leads the opposition in Parliament, was proud to call himself a “birkebeiner” after taking part for the first time. PHOTO: birken.no

The race, which runs over the mountains from Rena to Lillehammer, has a long history and attracts thousands of racers every year. The numbers were down markedly this year, with 12,877 registered, 10,683 actually showing up to start and 10,542 finishing the race. That compares to around 17,000 in recent years, but organizers claimed they were satisfied and could boast that new records were set for both the men and the women.

Star skier Therese Johaug was the fastest woman with a time of two hours, 41 minutes and 46 seconds, while Petter Eliassen won the men’s elite category with a time of just two hours, 19 minutes and 28 seconds. Martin Johnsrud Sundby, who won the overall World Cup in cross country skiing this year, placed second, 10 seconds behind Eliassen.

Støre, the former foreign and health minister who now heads the Labour Party with a seat in Parliament, could also call himself a “birkebeiner” for the first time but missed out on winning the merke by three minutes. He finished the course in three hours, 48 minutes and 57 seconds in the age class 55-59.

“It feels really important to be able call myself a birkebeiner,” Støre told the event’s own website, birkebeiner.no. He said he’d never skied quite that far before, although he does regularly take part in another race that’s 45 kilometers long. “I could tell this was longer, I got cramps several times along the way,” he said. He was glad his friend the crown prince did so well, saying he thinks that will help motivate others to get out and ski or exercise.

The race is known for attracting high-profile business executives, and among those doing well were Knut Beck Engrebretsen of Aker Solutions (2:42:49), Fast founder John Markus Lervik (2:48.45), the Norwegian Red Cross’ finance director Lars Atle Holm (2:56:30) and Det Norske Oljeselskap’s chairman Sverre Skogen (3:10:03).

Chess master Simen Agdestein also skied the race (3:40:47) as did NRK Chairman Birger Magnus (3:44:08) and the editor of newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) Amund Djuve (3:37:12). Abid Raja of the Liberal Party finished the race in four hours 31 minutes and 22 seconds, while violinist Arve Tellefsen, competing in the age class 75-70, skied the 54 kilometers in six hours, 44 minutes and 23 seconds.

The oldest participant was 91-year-old Birger Brandsæter, who raced for the 39th time and finished in six hours and 14 seconds. His scored his best time in 1973, when he finished after just three hours and 53 minutes.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund