For most of the Northern hemisphere, March marks the beginning of Spring, a personal reminder of those epic college hiking trips (canoeing the Buffalo, Ozark Mountains, Guadalupe Mountains/Carlsbad, and Katrina clean-up in New Orleans). Spring is also a great time for sports. Spring Training begins. The NBA is almost interesting. And March Madness (c’mon Aggies! I smell Sweet 16).
In Norway, snow lingers through April and sometimes May each year. So, Norway’s “spring” sports are really winter sports in disguise. Lucky for me, the Winter Olympics provided an excellent way to understand this Norwegian obsession. At the suggestion of my co-workers, I watched the traditional Norwegian events: cross-country skiing, biathlon, and ski jumping.
Given my mis-adventures cross-country skiing, I thought it wise to take lessons from the Olympians, themselves. So, I made plans to tune into one of the first ski events, the men’s 15km “sprint”. The competition had 95 racers, each beginning one minute after the other. Yes, it really took over an hour for the race to begin. Seriously, who could actually watch this?! Not me, I had to changed the channel. Eventually, I returned to the race, mainly to watch the Norwegian superstar, Petter Northug, All the newspapers had been whispering predictions of Petter sweeping the cross-country events. Midway through the race, Mr. Norway was already two minutes behind the leaders. He didn’t improve, and finished 41st. Immediatley, theories started appearing. The most popular was the wax. Huh? Wax? Would LT blame his cleats? Pujols the pine tar? Or LeBron the backboard? Well, apparently the wax guy was Swedish. Ummm… that’s just weak sauce.
I had to give cross-country spectating one more try to redeem itself with the men’s relay. I learned from last time and tuned in late. Of course, this time everyone started together, and I feared I had missed a full leg of the relay. At the 15 minute mark, a note appeared “Leg 1 – 6.3km”. What?? This is just Leg 1? Oh no, I’ve got at least another hour of racing. Well, at least I didn’t miss first exchange, which I imagined to be as critical as the baton hand-off in the 4×400 track relay.
Finally, 30 minutes into the race, the leg 1 skiers touched their teammates’ shoulders and off they went. That was it?? I was hoping for an exchange of poles, maybe even skis. Now, that would be a relay. The race soon got interesting when a half dozen skiers broke from the “pelton”. Actually, cycling is very analogous both in terms of distance and “why am I watching this” factor. Still, I was entranced. It’s embarrassing, I know, but these athletes fought each hill as if it was the last (and I was secretly hoping so, too).
The Swedes eventually took a commanding lead in the 3rd leg and Norway drifted 45 seconds off medal range. Norway’s anchor for the 4th leg was none other than Wrong Wax, Petter Northug. To my complete surprise, Petter closed the gap to 15 seconds with 5km to go. I guess the new wax guy was Norwegian (or Mr. Miyagi) Now, I was hooked. How could someone go that fast on skis? With less than 1km to go, there was a 3-way contest for 2nd place. In the last 100km, Petter blew past the Czech and French teams to win the silver. Still, the Norwegians were doubly insulted; they didn’t win gold and the Swedes did. Me? I was just astonished that watching cross-country skiing on TV could be entertaining for 5 minutes let alone 100. I know, it’s embarrassing.
If cross-country can be entertaining by itself, then imagine adding guns! Yeah, biathlon is just cool. Enough said.
Taking Flight One of the first jumpers of the night. The best jump was about 130m (25m beyond where we stood)
[inspiration comes from chatting with Aaron Brown about how the Aggies trounced his Longhorns in college hoops. It was so refreshing to talk real sports.]