The first Sunday in March every year is the world’s biggest cross country skiing race, Vasaloppet, 90 gruelling kilometres through the mountains and forests of Dalarna. At 8 this morning more than 15,000 competitors gathered at the starting line in the mountain town of Sälen, close to the Norwegian border, and some 4 and a half hours later the winner crossed the finishing line in Mora, close to Orsa where we usually go for holidays. We watched much of the race on TV. Maria and Hanna went to church, but Samuel was unwell, so we three boys stayed home and just blobbed on the sofa for the morning.
The race has been held annually since the 1920s, and was started as a commemoration of the famous journey of Gustav Vasa, back in the 1500s. Gustav Vasa, a Swedish nobleman, had attempted to raise popular support in Dalarna for a rebellion against the occupying Danish forces in Stockholm, from which he had fled following the famous “Stockholm Bloodbath”. Having failed to inspire the inhabitants of Mora he fled further north, apparently with his sights set on Norway. After his departure the men of Mora changed their minds, and sent two of their fastest skiers to catch up with him and persuade him to return. They overtook him in Sälen, and together they returned to Mora, and subsequently to Stockholm where they defeated the Danes and installed Gustav Vasa as king.
At least that is how the story goes. Gustav Vasa is remembered as a key person in the history of Sweden because he managed to unite a fragmented land. He was a ruthless autocrat, and had plenty of enemies, but he achieved a level of unity which had been previously unknown. He ruled for many years.
There are various different versions of the ski race which culminate in the official race today. There is a women’s race, which is shorter (although the full race also has women), and there is a short race which is a mere 30km. We saw the stragglers coming in at the end of the short race last weekend when we were in Mora on Saturday evening. That short race is a goal for us – both Maria and I would like to compete next year. But with our level of fitness and our lack of experience in cross country skiing, even that might be biting off more than we can chew!