Norway's National Sport is Indebted to Telemark
Skiing is the national sport of Norway, and the mountains and people of Telemark have made key contributions to its development. Norway introduced skiing to the world - even the word 'ski' (pronounced 'shee' in Norwegian) derives from Norwegian!
Rock carvings show people skiing in Norway some 4000 years ago, but it was simply a practical means of transportation during the winter for millenia. The story is told about the Birkebeiners who, after the death of his father during the Norwegian Civil War of 1206, brought 18-month old Prince Håkon to safety by skiing over the mountains from Lillehammer to Østerdalen. During the Middle Ages, skis were much thicker and one ski was slightly longer than the other. The shorter ski was covered in animal hides.
In the 1600's, Norway added companies of skiers to its Army, and that also introduced the notion of competition - the fundamental feature of all sports. The real change didn't come until the 1850's, when Teler Sondre Norheim, the father of modern skiing, and other craftsmen/skiiers in Telemark redesigned the ski and introduced new and stiffer bindings.
The word "slalom" originated in Telemark. Stein Gunleiksrud shared his father's explanation to us: "In the old days when they cut the timber up on the hills and mountains, they pulled the timber back to the valley by horse and sledge. These trails down the hills were called SLEA-LOM, meaning the trail after the slea (sledge). So when the young boys went skiing, the bravest ones followed the slea-lom down the hills back to the farm. These slea-loms would normally be covered with hard snow and it was a challenge. Over time to go down the slea-lom, became to slalom. Words change over time as you know."
Skiing competitions were sponsored in Oslo beginning in the 1860's and the true sport of skiing was born. During the twentieth century, the middle class had both the time and money to indulge in leisure pursuits, and skiing was the natural winter-time choice. When the first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France in 1924. Norwegian skiers, lead by the legendary Thorleif Haug, took the first four places in the fifty kilometer race and completely dominated international skiing competitions through the 1950's. At the 1992 Olympic Games in Albertville, France, only the Soviet Union garnered more skiing medals than Norway.
In 1888, Fridtjof Nansen received international acclaim when he skied across Greenland's ice cap, and put Norway's skiers at the forefront of polar exploration as well. Roald Amundsen reinforced this reputation when he led a party to the South Pole on skis and planted the Norwegian flag there in 1911. In 1993, Erling Kagge became the first man to reach the South Pole alone on skis.
The development of the modern ski in Telemark, together with the skill of Norway's competitors in sport and the courage of its polar explorers, helped spread the sport of skiing to the rest of Europe, and to America, where legendary Teler Snowshoe Thompson is credited as the father of skiing in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Holmenkollen ski jump is one of the premier landmarks in Oslo. It reflects the long history of skiing in Norway.
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