In the Shadow of King Gunde
Journalists are there, always, everywhere. Without them it would be much duller, but also simpler. So I wanted to write about my relationship to newspapers, radio and TV. If I should use one word to describe the development for the almost ten years I have been on the national team, it must be change. The cross-country skiing national team relationship to the media has changed, the media have changed, and I have changed.
We can begin at the beginning: the world championships in Lahti in 1989. The Norwegian men’s team lived in the shadow of King Gunde. The press – even the Norwegian press – flocked around him. Everything Gunde said was impressive. No one checked what he said; it was taken at face value. Before the championships the newspapers told their readers that Gunde had tested a thousand pairs of skis. It was documented with pictures from the factory, where we could see all the skis. The readers were left with the impression that Gunde Svan, who won most of the races at that time, was more serious than the Norwegians. Of course Gunde hadn’t tested 1000 pairs of skis. He had just looked at them and selected the ones he wanted. If the journalists wanted to add a Norwegian twist to their stories about skiing, they would often write about the women who had done so well over so many years. Moreover these women were so happy, cute, friendly and positive.
In the shadow of King Gunde and the Princesses, the Norwegian men’s team went about our business: testing skis and preparing ourselves as best we could. We even won medals: Vegard Ulvang took silver in the 30 km and bronze in the 15 km classic, and PÃ¥l Gunnar won silver in the 15 km classic. But then there was the 15 km freestyle race. Norway had entered a young team. We were four boys who wanted to do our best but still realized that there was still a ways to go before we were at the top of the sport: Terje Langli, Torgeir Bjrn, Ã˜yvind Skaanes and Bjrn DÃ¦hlie.
Terje was 18th and had the best finish. I was 20th and thought it represented a good World Championship debut. This was not what the journalists thought. We were basically slaughtered in the papers: â€œWhen Will Norwegians Learn to Skate?â€ I especially remember a picture in Aftenposten (Oslo’s main newspaper). They had managed to take a picture of us looking like four brothers on our way to our parents’ funeral. We felt unfairly treated. Of course we knew that a ski nation like Norway would not be satisfied with 18th and 20th places, but we were all so young and we thought we were on the right path. And there was nothing to complain about in our efforts. We all skied until we collapsed. We deserved support instead of being worked against in papers, radios and on TV. This is what we though, and this is what we said.
Moreover, we had skiers who were doing well: Vegard and PÃ¥l Gunnar. They also had a strained relationship with the press. I remember how angry PÃ¥l Gunnar was before the press conference after he had taken silver in the 15 km race. â€œIf VG is there, then I refuse to show up.â€ (Ed. note: VG is one of Norway’s more popular tabloid-style newspapers.) The reason was that under the headline â€œIt Is Outside the Trail That it Happens,â€ VG had printed a picture of PÃ¥l Gunnar and Marit Wold, who later became his wife. PÃ¥l Gunnar meant that theirs was a secret relationship that belonged to his private life, and that VG had crossed the line.
We used a lot of time and energy on reading papers, irritating us, and speaking disparagingly about journalists. It was dumb, but that’s the way it was. What did the journalists think about us? No journalist followed the sport of cross-country skiing in the 1980s as closely as VG’s Niels Rine. It was Niels who stood behind the publication of the picture of PÃ¥l Gunnar and Marit. In the work to put together this book, I asked Niels to characterize the team during that time. This is some of what he wrote:
â€œWhen it comes to the relationship between the male athletes and the journalists during that period, it seems that the athletes — in my opinion – created an enemy out if the press. They felt underemphasized in the domination of the women. The women’s team did better result-wise, while the guys felt they were presented as a negative group.â€
He continues to write a little about me personally;
â€œHe was so ambitious that it was difficult to take him seriously. I remember that when we was pulled from the relay team in Lahti in 1989. He mouthed off to everybody about everything, and meant that it was wrong to go with older horses instead of a young, promising skier. Both he and Terje Bogen used the kind of expressions that I chose not to use in print, in essence to save a young man from his own remarks. One thing I remember that Bogen said, and that was, â€˜Just wait four years. Then there will be no one in the world who can beat this boy.’ That he was right.â€