TrainingPart 23 – In the Center of the Media Circus in Trondheim

FasterSkier FasterSkierApril 2, 2003

If we take a leap forward to the most recent world championship in Trondheim in 1997, the situation is turned on its ear. The media are often elevating us, and especially me, into the clouds. Now we have taken Gunde’s place. Some have written about “King Bjœrn.” Everyone wants an interview, everyone wants me to be on their side to get their own exclusive scoop, everyone looks for funny, original twists.

For me and my media agent Rolf Nereng, our job is to set limits. If I will have time to prepare for and race the world championship events, we need to say no to most requests. We prioritize the biggest papers, radio channels and TV stations and attempt to give them something as quickly and as effective as possible. I have had journalists with me in the car to and from awards ceremonies, so that we could have the interview there. “See and Hear” got their twist when I let them take my picture while I ate dinner with my parents at the Royal Garden Hotel.

Without my knowing about it, Rolf had agreed to give TV2 its own twist on “Good Morning Norway!” The morning after I had taken my second gold medal, in the pursuit race, I was waken by a beautiful woman who came storming into my room. She threw her arms around me and screamed, “ I love you, Bjœrn!” This was live, on TV2. It turns out that the woman was the wife of TV2’s funnyman Arne Hjeltnes. When I met him later, I asked if it had been long since his wife told him she loved him.

These kinds of stunts are something I enjoy. I think we should give a little of ourselves. It adds to a championship when it becomes a party, and it should be entertaining. This mentality lies behind the press conferences where I offer homemade cherry liquor. I have done this during many championships’ press conferences. Every time I stress that this liquor is for the journalists, who are used to this kind of beverage, and not for the athletes. It has been well received, with one exception. A female reporter from NRK said to me once that it was improper to serve alcohol at a press conference for a ski championship. In Trondheim I had to apologize and report that the cherry harvest in Nannestad was poor and I needed to serve a fish I had caught instead. To about 100 journalists I served an entire fillet from an 18 kg salmon I had caught the summer before in the Altaelva river.

It’s fun, but it is also tiring. For a long time the pressure has been so much that I have had to have a secret telephone number and my own spokesman who sorts and chooses who gets my time. If I am to have the time to train and take care of everything else, it has to be this way. I miss the time after the Albertville Olympics, when there were two of us to share the attention. Journalists were just as interested in Vegard as they were in me. After Vegard was no longer able to stay at the top, I have felt an unreasonable amount of that pressure upon me.

But now I have to be careful, so I don’t begin to complain again like I did in 1989. Sure, it is tiring many times. Sure, there are moments when I wish that the journalists would go “where pepper grows” and where they won’t find many ski racers. But an important ski race without journalists would be dull. We need journalists. We need papers, radio, TV — the media. When I say “we,” I mean both the sport and every individual athlete.

Of course the sport needs them, so that people around the country know what is going on, get to see how much fun we are having and how great the sport is. We racers need them as well, both because media are able to create a party atmosphere around the big events and because it would not be easy for us to go into sponsorship contracts without a presence in radio, TV and newspapers. An invisible racer is not a very interesting investment, regardless of how fast he or she may ski.

My basic attitude towards the media is positive, even though I must admit that my enthusiasm is less than it was before. I feel like I begin to go empty. All the angles have been done, all the articles have been written — not just once, but many times. Then it can be tough to do it again: to have a journalist along with me on a hunt one more time, to tell a reporter one more time what I think my chances are in a World Cup race. But of course I come to say yes to many of those who ask, provided that the requests go first through Rolf. The job of a skier at the top of the sport consists of more than go as fast as possible from start to finish.

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