Vasaloppet – the oldest cross country ski race in the world
This Sunday is the day of the annual cross country ski race in Dalarna, Vasaloppet. The main race is 90 kilometers (56 miles), starts in Sälen and finishing in Mora. It is apparently the oldest cross country ski race in the world. The race is also incredibly popular.
What is the story behind Vasaloppet?
The race is inspired by King Gustav Vasa, who allegedly fled on skis in 1521. This was in the days when Christian II of Denmark was union leader for the Kalmar union (Sweden, Norway, Denmark). Christian was allegedly a nasty piece of work (at least according to the Swedes), and organised a reconciliation party with the Swedish aristocracy. How nice of him. However, the not-so-nice Christian instead killed between 80-90 people – including Gustav Vasa’s father, and this event became known as Stockholms blodbad (Stockholm Bloodbath).
Gustav escaped through Dalarna and tried to drum up support for a rebellion against the Danish king in the town of Mora, Dalarna. Initially, the men in Mora turned him down, and Gustav continued skiing towards the Norway border to seek refuge. But the men in Mora changed their minds, and caught up with Gustav in the village of Sälen. Eventually, in 1523, Gustav Vasa became the king of Sweden, after he successfully fought in the Swedish war of Liberation and dissolved the Kalmar Union with the Danes. And in remembrance of the election of him as a king, Sweden celebrates their national day on June the 6th.
The classical Vasa race starts with a ‘Vasa week’, which includes a number of different ski races (Women’s Vasa, Half Vasa, Youth Vasa, Vasa Relay etc).
The average winning time is 5:11:38 (a per-kilometer average of 3:28).
Women were banned from 1924 to 1980. The ban was introduced since it was considered bad for women’s health to participate in such a competition. This ban was criticized especially after 1960. Some defended the ban saying that allowing women would reduce the reputation as a tough challenge (!). Several women have participated in the race during the ban, disguised as men.
Vasaloppet 2012 was incredibly fast, and saw the breaking of records from 1998, for both men and women. The record winning time is 3:38:41, set by Jörgen Brink, Sweden. The fastest woman was Vibeke Skofterud from Norway (4:08:24). Only ten winners have finished in less than four hours. For more statistics, read this.