NORWEGIANS TAKE SKIING SERIOUSLY !
Skiathlon Heroes Recall Norse “Birch-leg” Skiers of Old
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
For a just man falls 7 times, and rises again, but the wicked fall into calamity. (Proverbs 24:16)
As Norway’s Olympic skier Simen Hegstad Krüger recently (i.e., on Sunday, February 11th A.D.2018) reminded the watching world, Norwegians have a time-honored tradition as competitive and resilient snow-skiers – and a track-record as loyal teammates during times of crisis – harking back to the Birkebeiner of old.
At Alpensia Cross-Country Centre, in the men’s cross-country 15km X 15 km skiathlon competition (2018 Winter Olympics, PyeongChang, South Korea), Krüger initially slipped, fell face in the snow, breaking a ski-pole, with his fall worsened when two other skiers (Russia’s Denis Spitsov and Russia’s Adrey Larkov) promptly collided into, stumbled upon, and tangled around him. Within 15 seconds Krüger found himself, in effect, as the cross-country train’s caboose!
But, since Viking times, Norwegians have a hardy reputation for battling the odds – and 24-year-old Krüger refused to accept this disappointing debacle as an excuse for quitting, or for reducing his best efforts to win.
SUCCESS IS NOT ABOUT NEVER FALLING, IT’S ABOUT GETTING BACK IN THE RACE!
If you fall the day is not done;
Get up! Finish what you’ve begun !
So when you fall down,
Don’t stay on the ground!
Get back in the race — and RUN !
Astoundingly, Krüger resumed the race, from his last-place position – with Viking-like vigor reminiscent of Eric Liddell – and steadily and serially by-passed each of his 63 Olympian competitors until he had won the race, earning a Gold Medal for Norway. Wow!
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — When Simen Hegstad Krueger [sic – the proper spelling is Krüger] slipped and fell on the first lap of the 30-kilometer cross-country skiathlon and found himself face down in the snow with two rivals on top of him, he figured his hopes at an Olympic medal were over. He couldn’t have been more wrong. “Here it is my first ever Olympic race, and it starts in the worst possible way,” said the Norwegian, who untangled his legs and his skis from the two Russian competitors he wrecked, grabbed his broken ski pole and stormed up the hill to get back in contention.
Starting from the rear, Krueger passed 63 other skiers to take the lead and win the gold medal on Sunday to cap an amazing comeback. After Krueger crossed the line in 1 hour, 16 minutes, 20 seconds, he looked to the heavens and repeatedly pumped his fists in the air.
Norway swept the medals, with [Norway’s] Martin Johnsrud Sundby taking silver and [Norway’s] Hans Christer Holund getting bronze. Sundby said Krueger’s return to the front of the field after crashing is an incredible testament to his perseverance. “I think we have a deserving Olympic champion,” Sundby said. Holund said he would expect nothing more from a Norwegian skier in a sport they have dominated for years. “When you are skiing for Norway, there are a lot of guys skiing for that right (to participate in the Olympics). You should not give up, especially when you are in the Olympics,” Holund said. “It shows that Simen is a real strong guy — not just physical, but also mental.”
Just seconds after the mass start began and with skiers still bottled up in lines, Krueger appeared to slip in mid-stride and his right ski came out from under him, causing him to fall to the ground. The two skiers directly behind him — Andrey Larkov and Denis Spitsov, Russians competing under the Olympic flag — couldn’t stop quick enough and toppled over him in a heap.
Krueger told himself he needed to stay calm. He knew he couldn’t get back the 15 seconds he lost all at once. It would take patience to get back in the lead pack and still have some energy left at the end of the race. “I had to try to keep those (negative) thoughts away,” Kruger said. “I knew it was going to be extremely hard.” One of the Norway coaches gave Krueger a new pole — which is legal — shortly after the crash.
Krueger steadily moved through the field and eventually took the lead with 5 kilometers remaining.
On the eighth and final lap, Krueger made what Holund called a “daring move” to pull away from the pack. He [i.e., Krüger] succeeded with the help of Norwegian teammates, whose plan coming into the race was for a team victory — meaning protecting the leader if he tried to pull away by not letting other top medal contenders like Swiss great Dario Cologna catch up. “If Simen had a seven-second lead and I tried to catch him and Dario was able to stay with me, and then Dario and [I] caught him and Dario has the best finish — that would not look so good for us,” Sundby said. “I think we all agree the plan was good for the Norwegian team.”
[Quoting “AP” / Soobim Im, “Norwegian Skier Simen Hegstad Krueger Crashes Early, Breaks Pole, Still Wins Gold Medal”, USA TODAY SPORTS, posted at https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2018/02/11/norways-krueger-wins-gold-in-skiathlon-after-early-crash/110314870/ (2-11-AD2018); updated 2-12-AD2018, 6:52 a.m.]
Yet the stakes were even higher – much higher in fact – when two Norwegian patriots employed their superlative skiing skills to save the life of an infant king, Håkon IV Håkonsson, son of Håkon III Sverreson, who was himself son of the Norwegian king Sverre who is lauded within Norway’s modern (albeit unofficial) national anthem, Ja Vi Elsker, as follows:
Dette landet Harald berget med sin kjemperad [this land Harald united with his host of heroes],
dette landet Håkon verget medens Øyvind kvad [this land Håkon protected while Øyvind sang];
Olav på det landet malte korset med sitt blod [upon the land Olaf painted with his blood the cross],
fra dets høye Sverre talte Roma midt imot [from its heights Sverre spoke up against Rome].
[Quoting Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s anthem, Ja, Vi Elsker Dette Landet, verse 2.]
King Sverre Sigurdsson, a descendant of Norway’s Viking kings Harald Fairhair and Harald Hardrada (as shown in a footnote, below), ruled Norway during the Viking Age’s sunset years, and was constantly engaged in a jurisdictional and theological tourney with the Church of Rome’s ecclesiastical-geopolitical imperialism, providing a foretaste of the centuries-later conflict (of Scandian-Saxon nations with the Church of Rome) that today we call the Protestant Reformation. [See, accord, Karl Jonsson, SAGA OF KING SVERRI OF NORWAY (SVERRISAGA), translated by John Sephton (London: David Nutt, 1899; reprinted 1994 by Llanerch Publishers of Felinfach), at pages 2-233, 235, 237, 239-240, & especially 241-261 (“Anecdoton Sverreri”).
NOTE: “Tusen takk” to Col. John Eidsmoe, for repeatedly educating me regarding the heroic Birkebeiner skiers.]
Throughout King Sverre’s adventurous lifetime and turbulent reign, Sverre faced a fierce and bloody conflict with the Baglers (“Hoodies”, who affiliated with the hood-wearing monks of the Roman church, often allied with Denmark). King Sverre’s opposing faction was called the Birkebeiner (“Birch-legs”), because some of them were so poor that they wrapped and tied birch-bark around their legs as protection against Norway’s snow and cold.(1)
Providentially, King Sverre had studied Christian (and Roman) theology in the school of Kirkjubøur (and in time became an ordained priest) in the Faeroe Islands, before Sverre became Norway’s king (during his 30s).
Consequently, Sverre was not easily intimidated by the theological bluffing, sophistic arguments, or bullying tactics of the Bagler faction’s ecclesiastical “authorities”.
After a long and action-packed reign (from about A.D.1184 to March 9th of A.D.1202), King Sverre was succeeded by his son Håkon III Sverreson. Yet Norway’s king Håkon III survived his father by less than 2 years, due to being treacherously poisoned by his Bagler-affiliated stepmother (dowager queen Margrete Eriksdotter, daughter of Swedish king Eric IX), dying on New Year’s Day of A.D.1204. Håkon III was thus succeeded by his 4-year-old nephew, Guttorm, a grandson of King Sverre, from January to August (of A.D.12024) — then the boy king Guttorm died suddenly, another “inside job” assassination by poison.
Before his own assassination, however, the unmarried King Håkon III Sverreson had fathered an son – also named Håkon (thus Håkon IV Håkonsson) – who was born to Inga of Varteig (Håkon III’s concubine since A.D.1203), during the spring of A.D.1204, only a few months after King Håkon III’s death by poison. Thus King Sverre’s dynasty now hung on the life of his newborn grandbaby – as the rival Bagler faction wanted that royal baby killed!(2)
To make matters worse, baby Håkon IV Håkonsson — who was not yet 2 years old! (during the winter of A.D.1205/1206) — was then in Østfold, a part of Norway controlled by the Baglers, so baby Håkon needed to be safely whisked away to territory controlled by the Birch-legs, protected by a bodyguard of Birch-leg patriots. So the Beinebeiners headed toward Nidaros (i.e., Trondheim), in hopes of finding refuge at the capital city of the new Birkebeiner-allied king, Inge II Bårdson (ruled A.D.1204—A.D.1217) — but the Birch-leg patriots’ mountainous trek was vehemently interrupted by a fierce and prolonged winter blizzard.
photo credit: THE LAST KING (Norway-produced Birkebeiner movie)
Knowing their territorial vulnerability, and with no time to waste, baby Håkon IV was entrusted to the best two skiers, Torstein Skevla and Skjervald Skrukka.
Torstein and Skjervald — through hours of blizzard snowstorms — indefatigably carried baby Håkon (for about 5 hours, during daylight hours late winter/early spring) over montane snows from Lillehammer unto Østerdalen, and presented him to King Inge II for safekeeping. (Håkon IV eventually succeeded King Inge II, in April of A.D.1217, 11 years later).
Those were violent times in Norway! — notice that King Inge immediately followed the truncated reigns of King Håkon III (who ruled less than 2 years) and boy-king Guttorm (who ruled less than 4 months), both of whom intriguing insiders had assassinated by poison.
Nowadays the amazing skiing of Birch-leg heroes Torstein Skevla and Skjervald Skrukka, with baby Håkon IV, is memorialized by Norway’s annual skiing event, Birkebeinerrennet (“Birkebeiner race”), a cross-country skiathlon conducted during March – about 35 miles, with contestants carrying a 3.5-kilogram backpack (to approximate the body weight of the not-yet-2-year-old infant Håkon IV).
Norway’s commemorative Birkebeinerrennet skiing event
[photo credit: Faster Skier]
Obviously, Norwegians take their skiing quite seriously.
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[photo credit: Leader Telegram]
(1) In Norwegian, “birk” = “birch”; “bein” = “leg”.
(2) The patrilinear ancestry of Håkon IV Håkonsson traces back to Norway’s famous Viking king Harald Hardrada, and from him back to Norway’s first nationwide king, Harald Fairhair: Harald “Fairhair” begat Sigurd Haraldsson, who begat Halfdan Sigurdsson, who begat Sigurd “Syr” Halfdansson, who begat Harald “Hardrada” Sigurdsson, who begat Olaf “Kyrre” (i.e., “the Peaceful”) Haraldsson, who begat Magnus “Barefoot” Olafsson, who begat Harald “Gilli-Krist” (i.e., “Christ’s servant”) Magnusson, who begat Sigurd “Munn” (i.e., “the Mouth”) Haraldsson, who begat Sverre Sigurdsson, who begat Håkon III Sverreson, who begat Håkon IV Håkonsson [who was later known as Håkon Gamli (i.e., “the Old”) to distinguish him from his own son, Håkon V Håkonsson]. See the 2 genealogical charts on pages 235 & 237 in John Sephton’s translation of Karl Jonsson’s SAGA OF KING SVERRI OF NORWAY (SVERRISAGA), cited above.