In Skiing’s Fenway Park, 2011 World Champs Start Wednesday

Nathaniel HerzFebruary 22, 20119
The cross-country stadium in Oslo on Tuesday.

Kikkan Randall came up with a great metaphor when she first described the Oslo World Ski Championships as the Super Bowl of skiing. The thing is, though, it’s a big understatement.

To truly understand what these cross-country ski races mean to the Norwegian people, you can start with the Super Bowl. But instead of the contenders consisting of two teams with small, regional followings, imagine that the home squad represents the entire country—featuring athletes that are a melding of Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, and George Washington.

In place of Cowboys stadium, the game is actually being played at a newly-refurbished Fenway Park.

And there’s the potential for a half a million people to show up each day.

Overwhelmed by hyperbole yet? Okay, we can back up.

Norway is possessed by a love for the outdoors, and for sports—skiing especially.

“Winter joy” was how Pål Stenseth, one of 2,200 volunteers in Oslo, described his country’s enthusiasm for the championships.

“I have been looking forward to this for two months,” he told FasterSkier on Tuesday. “Every time I talk about it, I get a big smile on my face.”

The top half of Oslo's big new jump.

Fandom is a big part Norway’s ski culture: its stars are on television practically 24/7, and their faces are plastered on advertisements all throughout Oslo.

But the championships are far more than just a spectacle. The races will be held at Oslo’s historic Holmenkollen venue, which is used during select parts of the winter as a venue for World Cup jumping, cross-country skiing, and biathlon.

For the rest of the year, though, it’s essentially a community fitness center, frequented by residents in search of their daily skiing fix. There’s even a subway that winds its way up and down from the Oslo city center to the trails, which are situated two-thirds of the way up a massive hillside that hems in the city to the northwest.

Up until Monday, the trails were still open to the public—giving fans a brief chance to rub shoulders with World Cup greats getting their first taste of the championship courses. The tracks near the stadium were redesigned for the championships—but with recreational users in mind.

“The World Cup is one weekend in a year. But still, we should use the course the rest of the winter, and also in the summer time, for normal people,” said Hermød Bjørkestøl, who was in charge of modifying Holmenkollen’s trails.

The courses weren’t the only things that got facelifts, though: there’s also a brand new ski jump, so massive that its elegant, metal frame can be seen from miles away down the hill, especially when it’s lit up at night. The cross-country stadium, directly adjacent to the jump, is a huge, white amphitheater, a cathedral of skiing, hemmed in by bleachers with space for thousands of fans.

As of Monday, some 225,000 tickets had been sold for 27 different events (including nordic combined and ski jumping as well as cross-country), according to Norwegian national broadcaster NRK. There are plenty of still available, and organizers are trying to get rid of the rest, but still, nearly a quarter of a million tickets isn’t bad for a country of just five million. The same proportion of the U.S. population would amount to some 500,000 people attending each competition.

While those fans are most fond of their own countrymen, they don’t limit their fervor to their own.

“You have here a public which is quite fair. If you are a good sportsman, you will hear the shouting,” said Jochen Behle, the German team’s head coach. “It’s very nice for everybody—maybe not for Kikkan Randall, if she will win.”

–Topher Sabot contributed reporting.

The 2011 World Ski Championships officially start on Wednesday, with a qualifying race at 6:30 AM EST followed by opening ceremonies in the evening. Thursday’s individual freestyle sprint is the first competition for which medals will be awarded, followed by five more events over the course of the next week and a half.

FasterSkier has three reporters currently on site, with two more to come, and we’ll have full, in depth coverage as the championships unfold. Look for a full sprint preview Wednesday morning.

Nathaniel Herz

Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.

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  • kobak1791w

    February 22, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    with all of the great champions, and the newly renovated digs… I think Holmenkollen is more like Yankee Stadium… but if you insist it’s Fenway, I’m sure Kikkan Randall will “Bucky Dent” the home fans when she beats Bjoergen in the sprint!

  • highstream

    February 22, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    I hope the reporting in the coming days is going to be better than this. The Fenway analogy is not explained by the writer and, on the face of it, is off the (left field) wall.

  • skiarrhea

    February 22, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Right on the mark kobak1791w. Holmenkollen really is more of a Yankee Stadium. Home of the greatest team in their sport (Norwegians to Skiing:Yankees to Baseball)

  • Tassava

    February 22, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    If every piece the FS crew writes is this interesting, nordic-skiing fans are in for a ton of great stories during Worlds. Think back a few years – there was *nothing* like this on or off the web. The Fenway analogy is perfectly apt – insane fans who are inveterate homers and show up en masse all the time!

  • bill mckibben

    February 23, 2011 at 8:27 am

    Having been there last for a biathlon world cup, it’s the exact opposite of yankee stadium–no corporate boxes, nobody ‘entertaining clients,’ nobody arriving in the third or leaving in the 7th. Fenway is apt, because in the way that Fenway is the spiritual center of New England, so the Holmenkollen is for Norway. (But the fans are much nicer–nobody chanting “Sweden Sucks.”) Anyway, good as always to see lively writing on Fasterskier

  • jessecrandall

    February 23, 2011 at 9:29 am

    More like the Lambeau Field of skiing!

  • rova

    February 23, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Fenway . . . that’s somewhere on the East coast, right? Along with Yankee stadium? I think the proper comparison would be to say that Fenway and Yankee are the Holmenkollen of Baseball, considering the respective ages of the sports involved. But if you need to go the other way, I might suggest Lambeau Field. The team owned by the fans, they shovel out the stadium, sit in freezing temperatures to watch and they eat cheese (orange not brown) while they’re at it. And I am not a Packers fan.
    Regardless, thanks to FS for making the effort to cover the WC’s so we can read about it in English with attention paid to our North American competitors.

  • mygatt

    February 23, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Regarding Fenway vs Yankee stadium, you all have to realize that Topher and Nat are exuberant Red Sox fans…

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