At around 4am on Saturday a man in his 60s from central Sweden apparently had a heart attack as he climbed aboard the skiers’ bus in Mora. Then, 50km into the race, just past Evertsberg, a 68 year old man from the Stockholm area collapsed and died.
20km further on, just before Hökberg a 30 year old Norwegian, said to be an “elite skier” also collapsed on the track.
While the two older men are thought to have had heart attacks, it seems that a heart infection could have been to blame for the younger man’s death.
“He had no signs of sickness but there are heart muscle diseases which can disturb the rhythm,” said Ulf Hållmarker, the race doctor.
“Every skier who is taking medicine or who isn’t completely healthy should talk to a doctor. And you need to have trained before so that you know your own body.”
Hållmarker explained that there are doctors equipped with defibrillators every 10km throughout the race and they were quickly at the scene of the 30 year old Norwegian’s collapse. But they were unable to save him.
Sven Plex Petersson, who was reporting on the race for SVT, said that such an incident was inevitable.
“It’s tragic when people die in connection with sport but you have to realise that it’s such a big competition that unfortunately something like this is bound to happen sooner or later,” he said.
His colleague, Peter Jihde, contrasted the tragedy with the general atmosphere of the race.
“It’s horribly sad. The Vasalopp is otherwise so happy and joyful,” he said.
Of 418,000 people who have started the race since it began in 1922, only nine have died. But the rate of death has increased in recent years as both the number of participants and their average age has risen. Now the average age is between 40 and 45.
Approximately one participant in a thousand ends up in hospital after the race, usually suffering from dehydration or exhaustion. But according to Dagens Nyheter, Vasalopp skiers “live longer than others”.
The race itself was won for the second time by Oskar Svärd, a Swede, after an exciting conclusion involving twelve other racers. Svärd beat Martin Larsson by just one second, while Norway’s Jörgen Auklund was a second behind him in third spot.
Svärd first won the race in 2003.
“Completely unbelievable,” said Svärd. “I’ve done it again!”