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OLYMPICS

Swedish men win cross country relay bronze

Mats Larsson, Johan Olsson, Anders Södergren and Mathias Fredriksson combined to win Sweden's first Olympic relay medal in 18 years in the mens cross country on Sunday.

But it was the home team, Italy, who claimed their third gold medal of the Winter Olympics, driven through mist and driving snow by a rapturous home crowd at Pragelato.

After a powerful solitary effort on the last leg, Cristian Zorzi took advantage of a 35 second cushion over his rivals to grab an Italian flag and gesture to the crowd before he crossed the line.

He capitalised on a five second lead built up by Pietro Piller Cottrer at the handover, after the pursuit bronze medallist broke away from the leading group on the third leg, closely followed by Sweden.

Germany took silver after World Cup leader Thomas Angerer beat Sweden’s Mathias Fredriksson in a sprint to the line, after a neck and neck battle up the final hill of the 4 x 10 km relay.

“I tried to push harder and harder in the downhill and for a while I was fast as Pietro Piller Cottrer, but I had some technical problems and he overtook me,” said Anders Södergren, who skied Sweden’s third leg.

But the honours went to Zorzi, currently 20th in the World Cup and potentially one of the weakest links for Italy, team silver medallists at Salt Lake City.

The Italian steadily powered away from his more prestigious rivals and built up a comfortable lead by the end of the final climb, finishing 16 seconds ahead despite his premature celebrations.

Södergren had said he sensed another medal was on its way for Sweden in the wake of their sprint title.

“We said that we had to win a medal so we could go down and watch the hockey this evening (Sweden-USA),” joked Södergren.

And colleague Johan Olsson expressed the team’s delight.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that I’m going to go home from the Olympics with a medal,” he said to SVT after the race.

However, fourth placed France said they had lodged an official protest against the bronze medal finishers after the race, claiming that the Swedes had cut across the track on their final handover.

Outgoing gold medallists and cross country powerhouse Norway fell out of contention, struggling through the fresh snow and hills at Pragelato to finish fifth, 1min 10secs behind.

Pursuit silver medallist Frode Estil was dejected after he fell 43 seconds behind during his third leg.

“Very, very disappointed. No shape, no condition, nothing works for me today.”

Norway, plagued by fitness and equipment problems, have yet to touch the top of the podium in the cross country at Turin 2006 despite a brace of other medals.

For members

STOCKHOLM

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”.

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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”.

MORE HISTORY FEATURES BY VICTORIA MARTÍNEZ:


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.

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