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Saturday, April 20, 2024

‘Kollen’ shame hurts Olympic hopes

Norway’s biggest annual winter sports weekend ended with Norwegians winning most everything, but leaving them stunned and shamed by drunk- and disorderly conduct among spectators. Athletes’ hopes of another Winter Olympics (OL) in Norway were quickly put on ice, at least temporarily.

Grey weather didn’t raise the spirits of thousands of sports fans who faced chaos upon leaving the Holmenkollen Ski Festival on Saturday. PHOTO: Holmenkollen Ski Festival

The chaos that spoiled the Holmenkollen Ski Festival on Saturday was not reflected in the sports results of Norway’s now-famous skiers and ski jumpers. Maren Lundby became the first woman to win in ski jumping competition at Holmenkollen Sunday morning, after winning gold at the Winter Olympics in South Korea last month. Unrivalled ski queen Marit Bjørgen, who also won more gold and became the greatest Winter Olympian of all time in South Korea, finished first in the women’s 30-kilometer race before cheering fans on home turf. And then Daniel-André Tande, who also did well in South Korea, won the men’s ski jumping competition on Holmenkollen’s large famed hoppbakken, and grabbed his fifth World Cup victory.

That all sparked jubilation among fans at Holmenkollen, but the chaos on Saturday marred what was supposed to be a celebration of Norwegian winter sports stars. Bjørgen herself even told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Sunday that the crowds were so unruly on Saturday that she wouldn’t have wanted to attend as a spectator with her young son.

The crowd control problems that upset and embarrassed organizers of the Holmenkollen Ski Festival came as speculation was rising that Norway may try to arrange another Winter Olympics in 2026 or 2030.

Lillehammer mounts a comeback
The Olympic speculation took off last week when officials in Lillehammer made it clear that they, at least, were keen to repeat the success of 1994, when a Winter Olympics based in their small town in the valley of Gudbrandsdalen was branded by the then-chairman of the International Olympics Committee (IOC) as “the best Winter Olympics ever.” Lillehammer Mayor Espen Granberg Johnsen floated the idea, also during the weekend, of hosting a scaled-down Olympics with events spread over various venues in Southern Norway and using existing sports facilities to keep costs down and limit environmental impact.

Athletes are more than positive, with skiers Marit Bjørgen and Martin Johnsrud Sundby (who also won medals in South Korea) both expressing strong wishes that the Winter Olympics return to countries with strong winter sports traditions. “The Olympics in South Korea was the most empty championship I’ve ever taken part in,” Bjørgen told Norwegian reporters at a press conference just before the Holmenkollen weekend. She and other athletes complained about the lack of spectators in PyeongChang, a result of disappointing ticket sales, extremely cold weather and wind and, more than likely, North Korea’s nuclear threats last year that discouraged sports fans from attending a major event on the Korean Peninsula. Many of the Norwegian athletes did not have their families along on the trip to South Korea.

After the last overly grandiose Olympics at Sochi in Russia and the next in the unlikely venue of Beijing (chosen after most all other bidders dropped out over concerns about expenses), athletes are clearly hoping for more skiing-friendly venues in 2026 and 2030, where they’d be cheered on by fans familiar with their sports. Downhill racer Kjetil Jansrud, who won another Super-G race at Kvitfjell in Norway while events at Holmenkollen played out this weekend, also  wants an “OL” in Norway: “All athletes of course want an Olympics on their home turf.” Jansrud thinks the idea of a new Olympics at Lillehammer would also be well-received by international winter athletes, too.

‘Kollen chaos raises doubts
But then came all the chaos at Holmenkollen, raising sudden doubts about the organizers’ ability to handle such a large sporting event. Rina Mariann Hansen, the city government official in charge of sports, was calling all involved in to a meeting to find out what went wrong after Saturday’s events ended in fights, two-hour waits in lines for public transportation and several injuries. One woman remained in serious but stable condition at a local hospital after she landed under a train at the Voksenlia station.

“Security is first and foremost the responsibility of those organizing the event,” Hansen told state broadcaster NRK. “We have to address this right away and arrive at an understanding of what went wrong.”

Police have already said that many members of the public were intoxicated and refused to follow instructions or orders. While the organizers, including the large local ski association Skiforeningen, contend they had control with fenced-in areas, many of those who’d been camping out along the ski trails had been drinking for days. It’s hard to control behaviour of those without tickets and in open space.

To all the drunks: ‘Shame on you’
Sports bosses were furious, claiming those who were drunk and disorderly should be ashamed, with Tom Tvedt, president of the national athletics federation Idrettsforbundet, claiming they should “look at themselves in the mirror” and acknowledge that they ruined what was supposed to be a fun, family-oriented festival for thousands of others. He worried that events on Saturday seriously damaged Holmenkollen’s reputation as an international sports arena.

On Sunday, the Oslo Police boosted their ranks, while the public transport agency hired in more guards and limited access to metro station platforms. The metro system was already operating at full capacity on the Holmenkollen line, though, so no additional departures were possible.

Volunteer clean-up crews also had their hands full trying to clear away all the debris left by the partying specators, many of whom had camped out in the forests surroundng Holmenkollen. Some even left their tents and relatively expensive cooking equipment, in additino to all the empty beer cans, bottles and other garbage.

“They just left everything,” Roar Grønhella, one of those helping clean up the mess, told NRK, which ran plenty of photos of it. “They invested quite a bit in this party, and then just left. That shows very bad morals.” Berglund



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