Part 20 – Why Me?

FasterSkierMarch 12, 2003

I was in the right place at the right time, from the inspiring environment in Bjerke ski club to the Norwegian Ski Wonder. There is where we have an important part of the explanation of why I became the world’s best skier. But I constantly meet people who say that that cannot be the whole explanation. “There were, of course, others in these groups,” they say. “But it was you who became World and Olympic Champion many times, and it was you who won the World Cup overall title. Why you, and not any of the others?”

I understand the question, even though I do not like to focus on myself. I maintain that without the environments I came from, I would never have won as many ski races as I had during the 1990s. But at the same time, why was it I and not the others? I think one important explanation is my relationship to training. I have always taken training seriously and have never missed a workout. I write more about that in the chapter “No Boundaries for Those Who Really Want It.”

I have also been lucky with coaches as well. Already as a teenager skiing for Bjerke I met Inge BrÃ¥ten, who was the man in charge of cross-country skiing in our county. He coaches me when I was on the county team, and he was also the national team coach in the years before our success in Lillehammer. Inge is an inspiring, systematic person who always has oversight over everything — both for training and equipment.

Together with Asbjœrn Aamol, Øyvind Sandholt was my first coach. Asbjœrn had the spirit of volunteering that is so important in so many sports clubs in Norway. Øyvind drove us to and from ski races, and on the rare occasions when he couldn’t be there he would call to fin out how it went. In fact it meant an enormous amount for a young boy to know that the coach took such an interest in trouble: “Am I so important that he takes the time on a Sunday evening to call?” On the Sundays when there wasn’t a race, we would often meet at Øyvind’s house for a run. Afterwards we would get juice.

Later Viggo Aaberg took over, and he made a big effort for us youngsters. He was an important advisor and conversationalist as we grew towards the years as senior ski racers. Viggo worked in Sponsor Service in Oslo and traveled back and forth to coach us. The firm’s founder and powerful leader, Terje Bogen, paid him to do it.

On the junior national team I learned a lot from Olav Eikrehagen. He was employed by the Norwegian Sport College. As a young man, he could use all of his free time from work to teach some young boys how to ski a little better. His involvement and enthusiasm were impressive. He went around to get equipment for the group of promising, but totally unknown skiers. At training camps he would come with sacks of wax, gloves and other things we needed. He would portion the things out after the workouts, so that we would have something to look forward to each night.

One time we got new jackets. It happened after Terje Smevold and I had been ribbing each other for a couple of days. Now I saw the chance to put him in his place. I grabbed Terje’s new jacket even before it was out of the plastic bag and hung it in a tree outside of his window. Then I found a biathlon rifle and sat down at my own window. I asked some one to get Terje to look outside, and I fired five shots through the jacket. Terje was terribly mad. More than any of the other boys, Terje was very on top of taking care of his clothes. He probably had ironed creased in his dirty clothes. For this type of guy it was naturally bitter to have a new jacket shot to threads. But he wouldn’t throw it out. In many years to come, people in the district could see Terje out training in a jacket that had a number of bullet holes in the front and back. It looked like he had been in a war.

To think that it was a big deal to get a little wax, a pair of gloves and a jacket seems kind of strange today now that I am constantly supplied with equipment worth thousands of dollars. Especially since it is often gear I already have and usually gets handed out as Christmas presents.

But all this was probably not enough to make me the best. In addition I have been lucky with my parents. With birth I had the physical capacity that is necessary to reach the top. For it is a fact that even if one trains and competes in the best environment and the conditions in all aspects of life are the absolute best, it will still be impossible to reach the top without the proper physical necessity. A certain talent must be there.


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