Sunday, March 2, 2008


JoeToday we got up bright and early to watch the televised coverage of Vasaloppet, a 90 km cross country ski race held once a year in Eastern Sweden. The race commemorates Gustav Vasa's flight from his cruel Danish overlords in 1521. He had been traveling the countryside of Dalarna seeking support in his bid to overthrow the Danes. When the people of Mora turned him down, he was forced to flee towards the Norwegian border, but a couple of days later they changed their minds and sent a delegation to catch him. They caught up with him in Sälen, and he returned with them to Mora, where he started his two year campaign to win Sweden's freedom from Denmark.

In 1922, a local newspaperman proposed a long distance ski race over the same course, both to commemorate the deed and to take advantage of the growing interest in skiing. The first race was held that same year, with 119 competitors. Now there are about 18,000 entrants each year, with the race being held at the end of a week of competitions and festivities. So, at 8 this morning, 18,000+ people were lined up at the start line in Sälen, most desperately re-waxing in the face of the rather unexpected snowfall. The first few hundred entrants are numbered in the order they finished the race last year, and grouped at the head of the mass, but behind them are thousands upon thousands of eager amateurs, many of whom will no doubt be struggling to cross the finish line before it closes in twelve hours. In between is 90 km of snow covered pine forest, broken only by the tiny villages which have been turned into giant blueberry soup depots (the traditional refreshment of Vasaloppet, handed out in little paper cups as skiers race by).

The start was fun to watch, everybody racing off to get stuck in a huge mass waiting to get up the first hill. The leaders are just entering Evertsberg now, the 47.1 km mark, so about another hour and a half to go. In the meantime, everyone has spread out, and the television coverage is mostly just a bunch of people skiing through the woods, broken by rather breathless reporting from people in the race calling SVT on their video capable mobiles, and one of the reporters trying desperately to get someone to talk to her at the pit stops.

Now they're interviewing some guy in a sheepskin tunic and a viking helmet, whose best finish was 10,754th place in 2004.

I'll report back with details of the no doubt riveting finish in a bit, or you can check it out for yourself on the Vasaloppet YouTube channel.

1 comment:

  1. Välkänt är bara förnamnet för världens största, längsta och äldsta skidtävling. Vasaloppet har blivit en del av den svenska folksjälen. Något som de allra flesta svenskar har en åsikt om, eller en relation till. Och många vet mycket om tävlingarna, spåren, historien och symbolerna.