"I fäders spår för framtids segrar"
—In the footsteps of our forefathers for the victories of tomorrow, motto of Vasaloppet
Vasaloppet was this morning, the 90 km cross-country ski race commemorating the return of Gustav Vasa and his followers to the city of Mora (Joe wrote a summary of the history of it last year). We did our Patriotic Duty and got up early to watch the mass start, which is quite entertaining when the "mass" numbers thousands and thousands of people—it takes well more than ten minutes just for everyone to get past the starting line, and of course there are tangled poles, improperly fastened skis coming off, bags of discarded outerwear that must be navigated around, and so forth. (In the picture above left, the clothing is being shoveled into a front-end loader after the starting area cleared out.)
The serious competitors are seeded and placed in the front of the pack, so that they can focus on their race and not be distracted by the far more numerous skiers who are perhaps hoping merely to finish. TV reporters find most of the people willing to be interviewed at the back of the group, including a couple fellows dressed as faux Vikings, in furs and horned helmets (and, incongruously, bright red fanny packs); a guy who had to do the race wearing a Swiss hockey jersey because he lost a bet on a hockey game; a pensioner whose starting number was 19,082 and who was skiing this race for the 30th time (his best finish was 6,265th). Performance-enhancing chemicals, in the form of blueberry soup, are freely handed out along the course, and race officials estimate that thousands of liters of the stuff are consumed. This year we had some blueberry soup for breakfast, in a gesture of solidarity. I guess the soup works as a stimulant for athletes working hard in the cold; however, for this observer (ensconced on the couch under a blanket in a nice warm apartment), that cup of blueberry soup was a one-way ticket to nap-ville.
But I did manage to wake up in time to see the winners, who finished around three hours after starting. In the picture at left, the female winner is being greeted by a rosy-cheeked handsome smiling youth dressed in historical costume, who is about to hang a laurel wreath around her neck as she skies past. The finish line remains open for 12 hours past the start time, and as I write this, at 8 hours past, skiers are still streaming into the finishing gate in downtown Mora, each pumping a fist in the air in joy, or relief, or both...