"You cannot help but note," he said, "that the good Nordic teams come from small towns, surrounded by the woods. We must be tough just to live; we ski from the time we are small. We play on skis; we learn to accept the bitter cold. We learn about the wilds."
Ellefsaeter knows. He is so flinty that the only thing that really worries Coach Jensen is that he will break his skis—which Ellefsaeter does often—since he does not seem to know his own power. At the last Olympics in Innsbruck, Ellefsaeter was slashing along in the 50 kilometers, burning his competitors behind him, until he broke a ski. Still, from first spot, he managed to limp in eighth.
Ole lives in a simple cabin off in the north woods, spends his working days wandering through the forest with an ax, marking trees to be cut down. And, on Sunday, he says, "to relax I run very hard and fast for, mmm, three to five." Three to five miles? No, hours.
He won every 50-kilometer race he entered last year and after one of them, to unwind a little, he decided to ski home. It was only over a mountain. About that time a fierce blizzard struck and Ole became lost in the woods. What did he do? Well, he shrugged and then he dug a hole in the snow, curled up like a sled dog and slept until daylight, got up and slogged home. And any bear that might have been careless enough to cross his path that morning would have been a very dead bear, indeed.
Ellefsaeter is the toughest, but he also is typical of this new-old Nordic breed. Jensen is one of the few coaches in the sport who does not coach; he simply unchains his gang, turns them loose on everybody else and then paces around on skis, holding a stopwatch.
"I don't know where they come from, such a strong team," he says. "The sport today is in the situation of the wind blowing the right way for Norway."
This situation has been inevitable all along, even if it has been a long time in coming. After all, Norwegians invented skiing—and Norsemen were skiing from camp to camp about the time other tribes in the world were wrestling dinosaurs. Not long ago, archaeologists turned up a 4,000-year-old rock carving at Rodoy, near the Arctic Circle, showing a primitive stick figure on skis.
In the last Olympics, the Norwegians made away with two Nordic gold medals—in the men's combined (in which a cross-country skier must get up enough guts to hurl himself off a jump as well) and the 90-meter jump. Then they picked up silver medals in the 15-and the 30-kilometer runs. And in the years between they have been gathering force like an avalanche.
At the 1966 World Championships, Norway's Eggen burst through to win an unprecedented three gold medals, sweeping the 50, the 15 kilometers and running the 4 x 10 relay (with Ellefsaeter, Martinsen and Gronningen as partners). And Bjorn Wirkola—whose first name means "bear," the greatest natural tag line in Norwegian history—came out of nowhere and stood the jumping world on its ear. He won gold medals in both the 70-and 90-meter jumping events, first man ever to pull off that lofty coup. In the latter event Wirkola sprang into what oldtime experts still say is one of the best jumps ever made, hanging up in the sky over Holmenkollen for an hour or two before coming down inside a small target area surrounded by a crowd of 90,000.
In the 15-kilometer event that year Norway not only snowballed everybody, it ran one, two, three, with Ellefsaeter and Martinsen hot behind Eggen—and in the relay event, the Norwegians blew off everybody in sight.