came to our house," says Stein. "My mother and I were downstairs. My
father was ill with kidney stones. I remember him moaning from upstairs. We had
a pewter porringer with a lid in the shape of a mountain that was a trophy my
brother had won before the war. The German soldier was holding the bowl and
trying to open the lid, but he couldn't. He said, 'This is your son's trophy?'
My mother said, 'Yes.' He said, 'He's fighting against us, do you know that?'
My mother said, 'We haven't heard from him since 1940.' He was in prison by
then, but we didn't know it yet. But the Germans knew, so they said, 'You are
our enemy and we are going to take your house.' All this scared my mother and
myself to death, of course, especially because the pewter porringer contained
slips of paper that were illegal news from England that had been passed to us
by some neighbors."
The one thing the
war didn't interrupt was Stein's training, and in this he was far luckier than
most young athletes of his era. Technically, ski racers were
"restricted," meaning they could not legally train or compete unless
they did so alongside their Nazified contemporaries. "So we skied illegally
back in the hills," says Eriksen. "There were 110 or 120 of us racing,
and there were no Nazis. We weren't allowed to have our open races in Oslo, but
otherwise they didn't interfere with us. It was even more exciting to race in
those days because it was illegal. The Germans forced us into a sort of clique,
and we became the Norwegian ski team. From my road alone, there were six
athletes on the 1948 Olympic team."
began racing at the international level in the late 1940s, the Austrian Arlberg
system was the orthodox technique. Rotation of the shoulders initiated the
turns, a method Eriksen says "was all right for big strong mountain
boys." Eriksen and a few other heretics began to use a "reverse
shoulder," or, counter-rotation method that got them closer to the slalom
poles, thereby saving time. The legs led and the shoulders followed, the body
uncoiling in corkscrew fashion. Balance, agility and low leather boots made it
work. Eriksen's years of gymnastic training in the basement of the home of his
coach, Odd Bye Nilsen, made it work better.
"If not for
Odd Bye Nilsen, I wouldn't have won the Olympics," he says, referring to
the giant slalom in Oslo in 1952. Four or five gates from the finish Eriksen
came so close to falling that the only part of him in contact with the snow was
his left hand, yet he managed to right himself and win.
all the privileges I had—a harmonious family, a father who was an athlete,
being able to train every day for five years as a teenager—I felt it was my
responsibility to perform to the ultimate of my ability, and maybe anyone's
ability," he says.
For Eriksen, the
ultimate involved more than just speed. "I always looked for style in
performance," he says. "A wide stance makes it look like work. I wanted
it to look effortless, to inspire people. I wanted them to say, 'Oh god, I'd
love to ski like that some day.' "
medals, hanging on faded ribbons behind glass, are history, but the Eriksen
style lives on. After four decades we still don't ski like Stein any more than
we dance like Fred Astaire. But chances are we are better skiers, better
dancers and maybe even better people, just for having wanted to be that