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2014 WINTER OLYMPICS

OLYMPICS

Swedish ski wax sparks bitter feud with Norway

A Scandinavian drama is unfolding on the slopes of Sochi, which has seen the Norwegians taking aim at the Swedes over their "superior" skis.

Swedish ski wax sparks bitter feud with Norway
The Swedes jump for joy after winning gold in the Men's Relay 4x10km. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT
While not a threat to international peace — yet — the enmity between Nordic neighbours Sweden and Norway on the supposedly placid cross country skiing tracks can barely be matched for bad blood.
 
After striking three early golds in the cross country events at Sochi 2014, the men's and women's relays were an unmitigated disaster for Norway, coming fourth and fifth in races both won by… Sweden.
   
Norway's fearsome star cross country skier Petter Northug — a bete noire for Swedes who does not mince his words — cut a sad and angry figure as he crossed the line in the men's race.
   
"Ridiculed by the Swedes, again!" lamented the Norwegian daily Verdens Gang after the men's race Sunday.
   
It was the first time the all-conquering Norwegian women's team had even lost a relay race since 2009 while the men were outclassed on every leg by Sweden, Russia and France.
   
The reason for the disaster was less do to with the athletes themselves than the preparation and waxing of skis to deal with the Sochi snow — soft and slushy after hot weather.
 
The world's top cross country ski teams employ a battalion of specialists to prepare athletes' skis for every race, putting the right wax on the base of the ski to ensure the maximum glide on different types of snow.
   
But this time, Norway's usually infallible waxing team appears to have got things wrong. And to the delight of Swedes, badly wrong, while the Swedish skis have moved like lightning.
   
"Zlatan would have won on those (Sweden's) skis," Northug was quoted as saying afterwards, referring to the Swedish football star Zlatan Ibrahimovic whose skiing talents he presumably does not rate too highly.
   
"When the skis are that bad, it's just awful. It's not fun to race when it's like this," fumed Norway relay team member Chris Andre Jespersen.
   
Rubbing salt into the Norwegian wounds, Swedish gold medal winner Daniel Richardsson baited his rivals by suggesting it was their form, rather than their skis, that was to blame.
   
"Those guys I raced with today have the same (skis) as me. Not bad, not worse either. We have good skis in Sweden. I think Norway has as well."
  
Jespersen spat back: "If he'd raced with my skis I don't think he would have done so well."
   
Sweden's cross country skiing coach, Rikard Grip, acknowledged that the team's skis had been "fantastic" and admitted there had been a concerted effort to work out how to beat the Norwegians.
   
Meanwhile Norwegian media pointed out that Norway was still far ahead of Sweden in the overall medals table with five golds at Sochi compared to Sweden's two, both from the relays.
   
"Okay, so we were crushed by the Swedes in the relays, we can't wax skis and there are crises in the Norwegian cross country," said Verdens Gang. "But we are still big brother. At least in the medals table."
 
As in all good Nordic dramas of hatred and passion, a sub plot has also developed in the shape of a feud between Norway and the Russian team.    
 
This has been rumbling all season since Northug — him again — vowed to "destroy" one of Russia's top skiers Maxim Vylegzhanin in Sochi.  
 
The tensions reached a peak last week in the first men's cross country race of the Games when Norway's Martin Johnsrud Sundby took bronze in the skiathlon by a whisker from Vylegzhanin after skiing across his path in the final strides.
   
Russia protested, Sundby was warned but kept his position and medal. But the Russian neither forgave nor forgot and Russia's silver-medal winning relay hero Alexander Legkov said he was glad Norway had come out of the race empty handed.
   
"It's good to know that the French won bronze. I didn't want the Norwegians to win because of what they did to Maxim," he said.
 
"This is revenge – tit for tat."

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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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