Of course, this being Sweden, everything is done on skis. Today was the yearly Vasaloppet Ski Race, 90 kilometers (54 miles) over the river and through the woods from Sälen to Mora, following the route that Gustav Vasa took to escape trouble from the Danish King who had shortly before slaughtered his parents along with most of Sweden’s elites in Stockholm around 1620. Since 1922 they have commemorated Vasa’s escape from the Danes by holding the race at this time of year. Gustav Vasa is a big deal in Sweden since he eventually led the revolution that threw off Danish rule and freed Sweden. The race has been held every year since then except for three years where the weather was too unsuitable to hold the race. By unsuitable I am thinking that it was too warm and the snow had turned to slush, but I could be wrong. I have a hard time imagining Swedes thinking that the weather was too bad to ski 54 miles.
The whole race was televised and true to my promise to experience everything Sweden has to offer at least for the first year, I was up, phone camera at the ready to bring it all to you.
Bright sunny morning in Sälen which is in the middle of the country. It was about -10 C. which made for a fast track.
This is a guy named Jörgen Brink who has won the race the past two years. The hard core skiers had their names on their outfits. Most everybody had numbers. The highest number I saw was 18.000+ but the news later said there were 16,000 entered.
Contestants amassing at the start. 1:24 before the start of the race. There were 16,000 entrants including a Danish prince and Pippa Middelton, sister of the Duchess of Whatever in England. Literally anyone can enter who wants to spend the better part of a day cross country skiing. Truth be told, some people do it as a lark and do not cover the entire course. Still, it was impressive to see this mass of humanity take off at once. Twenty minutes after the start there were still skiers passing the starting line.
At exactly 0800, they were off and runn–er, skiing.
This mass of humanity is just starting 4 or more hours of maximum effort. The cardiovascular fitness here must be off the charts.
There were even people watching, though it seemed a lot fewer than those participating.
These moose were among the crowd.
After the spectacle of the start, things settled down to a few hours of snowmobiles with cameras tracking the leaders.
And commentators interviewing the participants. This guy must be in his 60s.
This picture shows the two basic styles used. The guy on the right is sort of running and sliding one ski in front of the other. The guy in white is using his poles and upper body to propel himself forward. 250,000 crunches is about what this second style seemed to me. The gliding style seemed easier, though at the end everyone was doing the dig and pull method, so it must be faster but impossible to keep up for several hours.
I certainly did not stay glued to the action the whole time. I worked out, went for a bike ride, showered and ate and then settled back in for the conclusion.
At one point this guy had a 16 second lead on the pack and it seemed to me he would win, but slowly the pack began creeping up. This was 10 minutes from the end of the race and the pack had caught up. 50 some miles and this is what separates the top skiers.
This is two minutes from the finish line and here comes Jörgen Brink. All these guys must be in a world of hurt but the poor guy on the left who led the race almost the whole way must be feeling a special agony.
They are coming into the home stretch in downtown Mora and these contestants are literally in the skiing equivalent of neck and neck.
Here’s the finish.
And Brink wins for the third year in a row. Look how close it is.
Here is a fuzzy replay of the second, third and fourth place finishers. 90 km and that is what separates them. Why not make it a 180 km race and make the results more definite?
The winner gets what looks like a horse collar around his neck and a kiss from a pretty girl. He also got a Volkswagen, which was a big sponsor (Volvo, hello?). Brink’s time was 3:38:31 which broke the all-time record by 16 seconds. That figures out to about 14.8 miles per hour for more than 3 1/2 hours. The winning woman was a Norwegian who finished in about 4 hours which also seems incredible. The first time they held the race the winning time was 7 hours + if memory serves. Swedes usually win the race but sometimes a Norwegian sneaks in first and there have been Swiss, Austrian and occasional winners from other countries. But this is mostly a Swedish affair. Brink is 38 and said in his post race interview that this might be a good time to retire.
Mariette has cousins who have skied the race including one this year. In 1949 as a teenager Mariette’s mother begged her parents to be allowed to go up to at least watch the race. Her father put his foot down and adamantly said “Ingen väg!” (My phraseology for “No way!”) Being a bit headstrong, Mariette’s mom ran away and hitchhiked up to the middle of the country to watch the race. Her father blew a gasket when he found out. But she sent a postcard from Mora and he was soon bragging to his friends about his adventuresome daughter.
And life goes on here in Sweden. What a place.