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HOT TIMES IN A NORTHERN CLIME
Kenny Moore
July 07, 1986
Since it opened in 1922, Bislett Stadium in Oslo has been the site of an astonishing number of world records in both track and field and speed skating. What is there about the place that lifts athletes in two sports to such stellar performances? Part of the answer can be discovered in the Norwegian people themselves
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July 07, 1986

Hot Times In A Northern Clime

Since it opened in 1922, Bislett Stadium in Oslo has been the site of an astonishing number of world records in both track and field and speed skating. What is there about the place that lifts athletes in two sports to such stellar performances? Part of the answer can be discovered in the Norwegian people themselves

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When it was resurfaced last year, the straightaway was found to be 11 centimeters uphill.

No, says Boysen, Bislett's power is over the mind. "It has a standing, you see, that gears people to perform. The treatment of the athletes, the strawberry party the night before [a gathering at the home of meet codirector Arne Haukvik that has become an institution] create a milieu that athletes want to acknowledge with good results. And, of course, the crowd knows what sport is. They know the inspiration they are, with the cheer going around."

Only one Norwegian male runner has ever broken a world record, and that is Boysen. But the revolution in women's distance running has been led by Norway's Grete Waitz. In annual slices at the New York Marathon, she chopped the women's best from 2:34:48 to 2:25:29. (The current mark is 2:21:06 by her countrywoman Kristiansen.) In the Bislett stairwell, there is one old photo of Waitz, taken after her 3,000 record of 8:45.4 in 1976, but Oslo has further honored her, and deeply embarrassed her, by putting up her likeness in bronze outside the stadium.

"I was born in Oslo," Waitz says. "Before I knew about track, I was always at Bislett to watch skating. I first ran there at 15 or 16. I watched Ron Clarke run his last race there in 1970." The weary Clarke, sixth in a 10,000 won by Frank Shorter, was nonetheless pushed to the top of the victory stand and given cross-country skis to symbolically ensure his return (Australia having few Nordic runs).

"So Bislett has always been my home track," says Waitz. "I trained there at least once a week, and on those days I went with the excitement almost of a race." She pauses. "I sometimes hated Bislett. I associated it with being nervous. I could just think of it and get much too excited."

The Bislett photographs wind ever deeper into its past. They skip a large press room and stop beside an unmarked door. Inside is a quiet, inviting chamber. The walls are knotty pine, the windows, which open above the finish line, are curtained in red. The carpet is soft rose.

This is the King's Room. Unlike the royal retreats tucked away in many European buildings, this one has received constant use. The sporting interests of Norway have been well embodied by its recent monarchs.

From 1814 to 1905, Norway was unified with Sweden, but with independence came the question of whether or not to even have a king. Norwegians settled it democratically. They elected one, a Danish prince who became King Haakon VII, and later was known as King Happy for his animated cackle.

When in April 1940 Nazi Germany attacked Norway, the parliament and cabinet were on the verge of surrender. Haakon, in a dramatic speech, galvanized the country to resistance. Throughout the German occupation, he broadcast to his nation from England. His son, the present king, Olav V, 83, won a gold medal in sailing in the 1928 Olympics and is an inveterate Nordic skier. He has jumped from Oslo's terrifying Holmenkollen ski jump, and even now may be seen on a winter Sunday, gliding in the woods, always wearing the same faded blue parka.

There is a photo in the King's Room of two guys cracking each other up. One is King Haakon VII. The other is Norway's most beloved athlete, Hjalmar Andersen, who won three gold medals in speed skating in the 1952 Olympics at Bislett.

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