Holmenkollen ends with sighs of relief

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Organizers of what’s now called the annual “Skifest” at Holmenkollen could heave a sigh of relief on Monday. They avoided the serious crowd control problems of last year and Norwegians won more medals, but turnout was relatively low despite brilliant sunshine on Sunday.

The grandstand inside the Holmenkollen Ski Jump arena was far from full on Sunday, when Norwegian ski jumper Maren Lundby placed fifth and had a mid-air binding scare. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Police reported that only around 10,000 people were in and around the arena area, even though the World Cup competition ended with both the popular women’s 30-kilometer race and ski jumping for both men and women off Holmenkollen’s legendary and expensively modernized main ski jump.

When Norway’s Maren Lundby, who won gold at the recent World Championships in Austria, managed to land safely despite an open binding, fans were sparse in the grandstands behind her. She placed fifth in the “Raw Air” event, well behind winner Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria this time.

Fans were cheering from the sidelines, though, as Therese Johaug sped to her latest gold medal in the women’s 30K ski race. Johaug, finishing up a triumphant season that marked her comeback after a controversial doping suspension, was so far out in front that she literally skied the last 24 kilometers of the race alone, with the rest of the pack far behind. She won by a minute-45.9 seconds ahead of next-best Natalia Neprjajeva of Russia, who finished four seconds ahead of Sweden’s Ebba Andersson. Norway’s Invgild Flugstad Østberg was fourth.

Skier Therese Johaug posed with members of the royal family and Queen Margrethe of Denmark after winning the women’s 30K race. From left: Crown Prince Haakon, Johaug, Queen Sonja, Queen Margrethe, King Harald. PHOTO: Kongehuset.no/NTB Scanpix

Johaug won another big hug from King Harald V, who was watching from the royal box along with most of his family plus Queen Margrethe of Denmark. Johaug is remembered for flinging herself into the monarch’s arms when she won in the World Championships at Holmenkollen in 2011. This time she showed a bit more restraint.

Also greeting King Harald later in the day was Norwegian ski jumper Robert Johansson, who won the men’s ski jumping competition and thereby restored the honour of the Norwegian men’s team that’s had a tough season. Johansson, originally from Lillehammer, was thrilled: “I had a feeling things would turn around since I arrived (in Oslo) Thursday evening,” Johansson told newspaper Aftenposten. “I’ve had a great feeling from the start.”

Norwegian skier and jumper Jarl Magnus Riiber, who won gold at the recent World Championships, also claimed his 11th World Cup victory at Holmenkollen when he won the combined skiing and jumping event. The Norwegian men did not do well in their 50-kilometer race on Saturday, though, with Russian skiers taking all three medals and fourth-place as well. That allowed winner Alexander Bolsjunov to also accept congratulations from King Harald on Saturday, after finishing a full six minutes ahead of Norway’s Johannes Høsflot Klæbo, who finished a lowly 38th. Martin Johnsrud Sundby was the best Norwegian, in sixth place.

Norwegian ski jumper Robert Johansson soared through the air to win the men’s competition that traditionally ends the weekend of World Cup winter sports at Holmenkollen. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Police estimated that around 25,000 people had headed for Holmenkollen on Saturday even though it snowed much of the day. They reported that things began well, not least since the men’s 50K race had consciously been moved to a relatively early morning start. That’s because the 50K has earlier attracted noisy men who drink along the sidelines and then start behaving badly.

The crowd was better-behaved this year, but just before noon, police had to deal with a brawl involving around 20 to 30 people, mostly boys aged 16 to 20. One of them was injured after being beaten by around five others.

“We don’t know what set off the fight, but in this area there are some drunks, including youngsters who are so drunk they need help,” police operations leader Gjermund Stokkli told Aftenposten.

Crowd control issues
There were also some problems when thousands of specators all headed back to downtown Oslo and expected to take the metro. Crowds overwhelmed the station at Slemdal, prompting police to temporarily close it and thus blocking access to the platform by irritated members of the public. One person got so violent that police had to force him to the ground, while two others were handcuffed farther up the metro line for refusing to turn over their open liquor bottles. Another drunk was injured when he fell off the platform at the Holmenkollen station itself.

It’s unclear why crowds of just 25,000 on Saturday and 10,000 on Sunday could still cause problems at an annual ski jumping event that used to attract as many as 100,000 people, most of them walking back and forth to Holmenkollen. Alcohol has clearly changed the culture in recent years, even though officials avoided the serious trouble caused last year.

“Folks should be in a good mood, but this isn’t a russefest,” Johaug herself had said at a press conference before the ski festival got underway. She was referring to the heavy partying of graduating high school students in Norway called russ.

Bad publicity hurts
Others worry that all the publicity and shame over last year’s drunken brawls, and the few this year, overshadowed the majority who waved flags, cheered loudly and enjoyed the events without the help of inebrients. The leader of a family camp set up near the sidelines, Inger Søhol Lie, felt compelled to write a commentary on the organizers’ own website that the “focus” at this year’s Holmenkollen was wrong.

“This is in fact a World Cup event,” Lie wrote, attracting the best skiers and jumpers in the world. “Both in and outside the arena, an incredible number of volunteers worked so that everyone should have a good time.” She also highlighted the “wonderful offer” it provided to familes with small children who spent the weekend at Holmenkollen.

“At the family camp it was calm and peaceful, with a great atmosphere from Friday through Sunday,” Lie wrote, describing how more than 40 tents were set up to accommodate them. “Yes, there are some who unfortunately drink too much, but they’re in the minority.”

Organizers insisted they were pleased with how the annual Holmenkollen weekend in Oslo played out this year. “We estimate there were fewer folks here this year, but the mood was fantastic,” Emilie Nordskar, communications chief for Holmenkollen Ski Festival, told Aftenposten while the men’s 50K race was underway. “We are very satisfied.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund