Falun gears up for World Cup cycling

It may have already lost two bids to host the Winter Olympics but the tiny Swedish town of Falun remains doggedly determined to become a leading centre for European sporting events, and perhaps one day get the Olympics after all.

Later this month Falun, nestled deep in the forest 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of Stockholm, will host Sweden’s first World Cup cycling event, the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Series, which is expected to draw 1,000 cyclists from around the world.

The town of 50,000 is best known for being home to Europe’s oldest copper mine, one of Sweden’s economic mainstays until it closed down in 1992 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

According to local legend, Falun was founded by a goat which discovered deposits of copper ore over 1,000 years ago.

The town is also known in Sweden for the red, copper-based paint called “Falu Red” used on the majority of Swedish homes and for a red-skinned sausage called Falu korv.

Yet the town’s community has long nurtured ambitions of becoming an international sports hub to rival the capital Stockholm or Sweden’s second-biggest city Gothenburg.

Such goals included plans to host the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Winter Games. Falun lost out to Calgary in the first bid and to Albertville in the second during the final round of voting.

Yet the town has continued to promote itself as a top international sports venue. Falun Mayor Jonny Gahnshag said the town has “proven itself as an established organiser for national cycling competitions and both national and international ski competitions.”

On August 12-13, cyclists from across Europe, the United States and as far away as New Zealand will meet in Falun for the World Cup mountain biking event.

The men’s defending champion, Massimo de Bertolis from Italy, Sweden’s Fredik Kessiakoff as well as top-ranking female bikers Rita-Gunn Dahle from Norway and Germany’s Sabine Spitz are just some of the big names expected.

The Swiss-based International Union of Cyclists (UCI), the regulatory body for races such as the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, chose Falun from 60 cities worldwide to host a stage of its MTB Marathon World Series.

UCI’s Mountain Bike coordinator Christophe Burri said the federation was impressed by Falun’s sports facilities which include the National Ski Centre and Nordic Stadium.

“Despite its size, Falun had a well established reputation for organising multi-sporting events. Cyprus had successfully organised the April leg of the MTB Championship and now Falun will host a stage in August,” he said.

In a major publicity coup for Falun, Sweden’s top professional cyclist, Magnus Backstedt competed for the local club, Falu CK, during the country’s Midsummer Classic in July, before heading off to the Tour de France with his Liquigas-Bianchi team.

Backstedt, whose credits include winning last year’s Paris to Roubaix race, thinks small towns appreciate the benefits of large scale events more than bigger cities.

“Races such as the MTB World Cup are very important for towns like Falun. If people on the local scene can see world class athletes, it’s always a crowd puller and for a place like Falun it’s a big happening,” he said.

Falu CK is one of the driving forces behind Falun’s bid to host a stage of the UCI MTB Marathon World Series and the town’s international goals.

The club’s race organiser, Bjoern Stenberg, is positive that the stage-race will kick-start long-term plans for Falun to have a national velodrome and a semi-professional cycling team.

“It will take a lot of effort to achieve these goals but it will be a great opportunity for everyone. The local community is supportive behind the club’s efforts. Such goals will attract Sweden’s top cyclists to come and train in Falun,” he said.

Organising the UCI stage-race will cost Falu CK nearly 1.2 million Swedish kronor. The club’s revenue is only 100,000 kronor, so it is relying on sponsors, registration fees and concessions to cover costs.

Backstedt’s teammate Marcus Ljungqvist thinks the risks are worth taking. Ljungqvist grew up in Falun and although he is now based in Luxembourg, he is an active Falu CK member.

“The UCI event is one of the biggest events we’ve had here. It’ll be great for Falun and also for cycling in general with all the extra media coverage we’ll get,” he said.

Regardless of Falun’s long-term plans for the future, its first priority will be to break-even with the UCI MTB World Series stage-race or else its ambitions could end up like the famed Falu Copper Mine – empty and bottomless.


For members


The year Sweden organized the Olympics and defied expectations

Stockholm Olympic Stadium defied those who said Sweden wasn't advanced enough to host the Olympic Games in 1912, and has survived to become the world's oldest Olympic stadium actively in use.

The year Sweden organized the Olympics and defied expectations
Stockholm's Olympic Stadium as it used to look. Photo: Bertil Norberg/TT

This article was written for Members of The Local. Read more articles for Members here.

Taking inspiration from the medieval city wall of Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland, Swedish architect and athlete Torben Grut designed a stadium for the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm that would stand as a fortress of athleticism.

His success was both immediate and enduring, and the now-historic stadium has lived up to its impressive façade for more than a century, hosting countless sporting and cultural events, witnessing more than 80 athletic world records, surviving a bombing, and simply reminding the world of its important place in Olympic history.

Initially, however, the outlook for both the stadium and the Stockholm Olympics – the fifth modern Olympic games – was far from promising. As historian Therese Nordlund Edvinsson wrote in a 2014 article in The International Journal of the History of Sport, despite Sweden's “modest ambitions” for the games, “critics argued that the country was too undeveloped to arrange a major sport event”.


Djurgården versus AIK in 1915 at Stockholm Stadium. Photo: TT

The original plan for the stadium was an accordingly modest – and temporary – whitewashed wooden structure. The decision to make it permanent was likely a relief to Grut, whose other designs included Solliden Palace, the summer residence of the Swedish royal family on the island of Öland. Though still relatively small, with an original seating capacity of around 20,000, the completed stadium became a model for subsequent Olympic stadiums. Likewise, and in defiance of the critics, the Stockholm Olympic Games were considered a great success.  

In a 2012 article entitled, “Stockholm 1912 set the gold standard for the modern Olympics,” in the British newspaper The Guardian, sports journalist Frank Keating wrote, “Stockholm's 1912 Games are still considered standard-setting for Olympic decades to come. Women's competition was allowed for swimming and diving, while men's boxing was banned: and on the track photo-finish electronic-timing was introduced as a back-up to the hand-held judges' stopwatch.” It was also, he explained, “the last Olympics where any individual could just turn up and hope to enter a competition”.


One of the numerous concerts organized at the Stockholm Stadium. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Over the years, the appearance of Stockholm Olympic Stadium has changed little, and the seating capacity has even been reduced. In 2011 and 2012, the stadium underwent its only major renovation in preparation for its centenary. Nonetheless, it has been an incredibly adaptable venue, serving for many years as home to Swedish football team Djurgårdens IF, and accommodating a wide variety of sporting and cultural events – from ice hockey to American football and from Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti to Swedish DJ Avicii. It is also where the Stockholm Marathon ends each year.

The stadium has also maintained a long and at times somewhat chequered connection to the Olympic Games. In 1956, for instance, the equestrian events of the Summer Olympics taking place in Melbourne, Australia, were hosted some 15,000 kilometres away in Stockholm Olympic Stadium due to animal quarantine restrictions in Australia. And in August 1997, as Stockholm vied to host the 2004 Summer Olympics, the stadium was one of several sites in Sweden bombed or set alight by Swedish far-right extremists opposed to Sweden hosting the games.

READ ALSO: Polls suggest Italians much more enthusiastic about Olympic bid than Swedes

Although modern stadiums designed or used for the Summer Olympics now typically seat three to four times more people than Stockholm Olympic Stadium did in 1912, the historic venue still has a chance of returning to its Olympic origins. If Stockholm-Åre is selected to host the Winter Olympics in 2026, the snowboarding competitions are slated to take place in the landmark stadium, neatly tying together 114 years of Olympic history.

Victoria Martínez is an American historical researcher, writer and author of three historical non-fiction books. She lives in Småland county, Sweden, with her Spanish husband and their two children.