Tønnessen was raised that way. "I lived more at Bislett than at home," she says. "I was one of the skating hundreds at night. You know, you can have 25,000 in there when you are standing, but your feet don't touch the ground." At least not when you are 10 years old and watching Hjalmar Andersen win three gold medals in the Olympics. "In 1955, when my hero, Audun Boysen, ran against Roger Moens, I was 13. I won the gold medal for casting the leather weight with a wire [an incomprehensible event in which juniors compete], and I got my prize right before the race with 20,000 watching. That's what I remember."
She composes herself a little and speaks of the additions Bislett is soon to receive. More toilets, parking, showers' and training rooms. "But still only six lanes. If we have eight, it means we have to take down the whole place. We are not building an Olympic stadium."
That's O.K. with meet codirector Haukvik. "No, no, we have no intention to be bigger," he says. He is a theatrically charming man, with an ideal background for a promoter: In the '50s Haukvik was a vacuum-cleaner salesman in Chicago. "We simply want to do the best we can, every year, to make athletes feel at home in Oslo and Bislett without buying them." Bislett, of course, pays its attractions, but it could not win a bidding war with other meets. "Andreas Brügger [the director of Zurich's prestigious Weltklasse meet] wants to be the biggest in the world. Zurich's budget is $600,000, more than twice ours. Money for sprinters. Money for every field event. Fine, fine. Who had the three world records last year?"
Haukvik and codirector Svein Arne Hansen direct their resources, largely from an ABC-TV contract, toward shaping classic Bislett races—in the distances. "No sprinters," says Haukvik. "Sprinters cost the same and last 10 seconds and, puff, they're over. Middle-distance runners are more fun, and it's a better chance to get young Norwegians in the race."
Haukvik is still looking for a countryman to beat the world. "In skating the people get to see Norwegians win sometimes, but never in running."
He embraces himself at the thought. "If we had just one Norwegian runner who could compete with Cram and Aouita, we would be able to get by with inviting 100 fewer foreigners."
That sounds a little extreme to him. "We would never cut back, though. That week in summer is a United Nations that works. So many friends." Haukvik chooses, as a happy example, Ron Clarke. "He was a promoter's dream. He would race any time, any day, any distance, against any competition and with no concern about money. [It is Clarke's recollection that for the grandest of Bislett world records, he got about $500.] We used him to attract other athletes, because the best always wanted to race him. If they could stay with him, they had a chance to outkick him. He's even responsible for the famous strawberry party. He traveled with his wife, Helen, and the three kids and liked to avoid hotels, so they stayed at our home. Ron loved Norwegian strawberries and cream, so I served some to journalists who came to the house to interview him." Now it's a merry bash under the apple trees on Haukvik's hillside lawn, the Coes, the Waitzes, the Crams, the Kristiansens and the Clarkes all socializing in an empyrean of infinite possibilities.
This is what astronauts say: The multitude below boosts a few up, to go where no one has ever gone before, and to draw the rest of us up there as well. Bislett's runner or skater, driving toward a record, is equally an extension of his audience. The act of separating oneself from history's pack becomes the act of affirming one's inseparability.
"That rapport," says Clarke, "was better than having a rabbit."