Contributing Editor for The Master Skier
Original article by JON WIIK
This article was translated by TORBJØRN KARLSEN
Torbjørn Karlsen is a graduate of the Norwegian Sports College, where he specialized in XC skiing, and holds the highest coaching degree available in Norway. He now lives in Park City, UT, where he coaches several skiers who have Olympic ambitions, as well as a group of masters skiers. He is also a part-owner of Nordic Equipment Inc., a mail-order and retail company specializing in cross country skiing.
Norway’s king of cross country skiing, Bjorn Daehlie has retired.
The most winning skier of all time can finally look back. Eight Olympic gold medals, four Olympic silver medals, 46 World cup victories, six overall World Cup titles and 9 World Championship gold medals.
Bjorn’s trademark was to always look forward, forgetting about past success regardless of how sweet it had been.
He always stated that you are not a World or Olympic champion when you are on the starting line.
A champion is something you have been and can become, but you are not a champion when you start a race unless you win again.
Among all the victories, he was asked to pick his three best races. It was a tough task for Daehlie.
10K Classic, 1994 Lillehammer Olympics
“An optimal race when it counted the most. To succeed this way—with such a huge spectator crowd on the home course, in a competition we had looked forward to and practiced for six years—was simply enormous,” said Daehlie.
“I was in great shape and wanted revenge after being beaten by Thomas Alsgaard in the 30-K freestyle— I was not satisfied with second place.”
“The fast, hard tracks suited me perfectly. The waxing was easy. The temperature was -15C and all you needed to do was heat in blue kick wax and give it all — floor the gas pedal.
“I didn’t slip once. I skied on a 4 year old pair of skis that felt very safe and comfortable…the so-called “Jukkas-jarvi” pair, named after the first place I won on them in November, nineteen ninety.
“I used them for many years, raced many good races on them, but only in very cold conditions. It can “throw you off” if you are not comfortable with your skis before the race, but with this pair I felt a mental safeness that probably became a deciding factor, Daehlie said.
“It was details like this that made me the best in the hard hills from seven to nine kilometers. I was even with Smirnov 2.5K from the finish, but won by 18.2 seconds! My best finish ever.”
10K Classic, 1997 World Championships in Trondheim, Norway
“I feel that I skied this race the fastest the whole way, from start-to-finish,” said Daehlie.
“Everything worked perfectly. I started out hard, but didn’t know how I was doing since I had an early starting bib in the red group. Two kilometers from the finish, I was told that I was even with Myllyla at the 2K mark, but at the finish I was 27.9 seconds ahead of Prokororov and 32.4 seconds ahead of the Finn.
“It was great to have both good grip and good glide on the very difficult klister conditions. These conditions required a stiff ski and different grind and structure than the ones used in Lillehammer.
“We hit it right with the choice of skis as well. The large and very enthusiastic home crowd made for a great day.”
15K Classic, 1990 World Cup in Lahti, Finland
“I have had several good races in Lahti, but my first World Cup victory there in 1990 was special,” said Daehlie.
“It was the first day of the pursuit, a 15-kilometer classic. This was one of the few times in my career that I felt that everything was effortless. I can still remember asking myself during the race “Where are the hills?” I was just looking for hills where I could explode up them and pour out energy.
“It was a strange feeling to not feel tired after the race. Seldom or never have I felt this way,” he said.
The victory in the pursuit the next day was his third World Cup victory that season.
Earlier that season he won his first ever on the Mountain Dell Golf Course outside Park City and second in Campra.
His last World Cup victory was in Lahti in 1999 in the 15K classic.
Bjorn does not consider his first World Championship (Val di Fiemme) or Olympic (Albertville) gold medals as particularly great races, however, they were emotionally great. He also feels that the 30K victory at the 1993 Worlds in Falun was career deciding.
It was in the classic style and he felt that he had become a complete racer - someone who could win in any style and race length.
The final race in dizziness
He laughs when he thinks back to the wax chaos that erupted before the 10K in Nagano in 1998 - when it suddenly changed from great hard wax conditions to pouring rain and red klister.
But he won then too.
Just like the last race of the Games - the 50K freestyle.
This race and accomplishment stands out like a symbol of his racing career, the skill to dig deep down and push the effort beyond what seems humanly possible when it counts the most.
“I had no expectations before this race. Just wanted to finish with a reasonably good result,” said Daehlie.
“But after awhile, I started to realize that I had a chance to win. Gradually I started to believe in myself and was able to create the needed, deep-down motivation.
“I remember thinking that this could possibly be my last Olympic race, so why not go all out?”
He was right and what a final race in his career!
“During the last kilometers I had to focus on not falling over,” he remembered.
“I’m sure that if I had missed one pole plant I would have fallen down and never even made it to the finish.”
He’s smiling now. And we can smile too, for what a performance and what a cross country skier!
Bjorn Daehlie will make an appearance at Nordic Equipment’s store during the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.
Make sure to stop in if you are planning to attend the Games. This is a unique chance to see a legend, get his autograph on a poster, or have your photo taken with him – you name it!
For more articles like this one, subscribe today to The Master Skier.