Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/17/2006 05:41:00 PM
My Sportsman: Bjoernar Haakensmoen
By Kelli Anderson
My nominee for Sportsman of the Year didn't win any games, races, medals, rings or trophies this year. He didn't give away loads of money to good causes nor did he expose any drug cheats. He didn't do much of anything, really, but capture, in one small act, the essence of what sportsmanship -- and Sportsman -- is supposed to be all about. In an era when the prevailing competitive ethos is win-at-all-costs his gesture -- "a reflex," he called it -- reminded us that winning is meaningless without fair play.
All that, and he may have opened up a new export market for Canadian maple syrup.
His name is Bjoernar Haakensmoen, and he is a thirty-something technology company chief who completed his term as Norway's cross-country coach at the Turin Olympics. Here's the story, in case you missed it: On Feb. 14, the women's Olympic cross-country team sprint final was being contested in the little burg of Pragelato in the Italian Alps. The Canadian relay team of Sara Renner and Beckie Scott were leading in the third of the race's six laps when one of Renner's poles snapped.
As she struggled to continue up an uphill stretch, three skiers passed her, the third from Norway. Within seconds, Haakensmoen, who was standing on the side of the course, reached out and handed Renner one of his own poles. It was 6 inches longer than her other pole, but Renner didn't quibble. She took the gift, and over the three remaining laps, she and Scott made up most of their lost ground. They eventually finished second, less than a second behind the Swedish team. Finland came in third. Nine seconds behind Finland was Norway, in fourth.
After a brief celebration, Renner, who had failed to medal in two previous Olympics, went searching for the mysterious stranger who had come to her rescue. When she found out he was the Norwegian coach, she gave him a bottle of Barolo and made his gesture, which cost his country a medal in its national sport, public.
Amazing things transpired. Nobody in Norway sent Haakensmoen angry e-mails or death threats. Across the pond, grateful Canadians flooded the Norwegian embassy in Ottawa with emails and letters and flowers. Some started Project Maple Syrup, collecting more than five tons of maple syrup and shipping the 7,400 cans -- each with a personal thank-you note attached -- to Haakensmoen, who eventually donated them to Norway's Cancer Society. (In a special Can-Norwegian agreement, all import duties were waived.)
When Canadians heard that Norwegians aren't generally familiar with their national pancake topper, they flooded the embassy with maple-syrup recipes. The cross-cultural gratitude fest didn't end there. In July, Haakensmoen and his family spent an all-expenses-paid month-long summer vacation in Canada, during which he and Renner served as marshals of the Calgary Stampede parade. Haakensmoen called the whole thing "overwhelming."
After all, it never occurred to him that by handing Renner his pole he was doing anything more extraordinary than holding the door open for someone or returning a wallet. In Norway, such gestures are normal.
"We have a policy in the Norwegian cross-country ski program that, if a skier from another country needs equipment, we have to help," Haakensmoen told the Ottawa Citizen. "We need to compete on a fair course. The skiers need two skis and two poles and that must be the right way."
It is the right way. Geoff Snow of Waterford, Ontario, suggested to the Norwegian paper Aftenposten that Haakensmoen deserved a gold medal for reminding us of that. Better yet, how about a nod for Sportsman of the Year?
living in norway, i saw people crying after Sweden took gold and norway nothing..this is how important that sport is in this country. it gives Bjoernar gesture an even bigger value. and it would be nice if the Sportsman of the year wasn't someone hyper famous nor american...
Wow.......what a novel concept, helping out a fellow competitor. That shows great love for the sport; playing fairly and helping others in the sport, not putting your own "needs" first but the sports'. Awsome pick, I would definately vote for him.