Monday, March 03, 2008
King Vasa's Race and Blueberry Soup
This may be my favorite Linköpinglivin’ title of all. The kind of title to which Swedes nod their head in approval and the rest of the world is dazed and confused. It includes a tip of the hat to Swedish history as well as the latest of many curious Swedish food traditions and edible delights connected with a larger nationwide celebration. (And watch out, “Waffle Day” is coming soon…)
This past Sunday was Sweden’s 84th Vasaloppet cross-country ski race, the largest of it’s kind in the world, which begins in the popular ski town of Sälen and ends “9 Swedish miles” or 90 kilometers away in Mora. One of the most celebrated sporting events of the year, the few Swedes who aren’t actually participating or spectating at the event itself, wake up early on the first Sunday morning in March (and waking up early on Sundays is definitely NOT a Swedish tradition) and take in the much-heralded start of the Vasalopp.
The fun part is that this race is in tribute to King (actually, almost king at the time) Gustav Vasa on a stretch of land that is part of the journey he made way back in 1520 trying to escape the hand of the Danish king affectionately known to Swedes as Christian, the Tyrant. I’ve stopped asking just where reality and myth connect in Swedish history, but apparently this one is more true than not…
An annual 15,000 participants take part in Vasaloppet. What used to be a Swedish-only event has now become global as enthusiasts from all over the world descend on Sälen to be a part of this celebration of a favorite Swedish wintertime sport. As a first-time observer (nice and warm in the cover of home, by the way), the array of colors and motion among the participants against the backdrop of a winter white wonderland did make for quite a sight. Usually the start of any kind of marathon-type event like this is a blur of bodies with no sense of order or organization. Granted in cross-country skiing this is a necessary element, but the perfect lines of participants, all following in 10 single-file rows to start, definitely induced a small whisper from this foreigner’s lips, “So Swedish. Perfect queue lines to start a competitive race…”
And sometime in the past 84 years of the Vasalopp, Blueberry Soup – Blåbärssoppa – became the beloved nourishment associated with this event. Not sure when and not sure why, but while participants can choose water, their favorite energy drink, etc., they also have the option of grabbing cups of blueberry soup, actually more of a drink, to help them persevere to Mora. For those watching the spectacle up close or from the comfort of their living room, Ekströms gladly provides them the option of their own Blåbärssoppa, as well.
Who won, you ask? Though winners throughout the years have come from Russia, Estonia, Finland, Austria, East Germany and others, the Swedes and Norwegians have dominated this event since it began. Yesterday, Norwegian Jörgen Auckland captured the title in just over four hours, the average time for the first finisher depending on snow conditions.
And of course, as an American, I think, “Hmm, no American has ever won Vasaloppet. Hmmmm.” Then I remember that the only time I’ve ever put on cross-country skis, I couldn’t wait for the next hill heading down. I’ll stick with basketball, running Ryd Skogen and downhill skiing, thanks.
Here’s to King Gustav Vasa's triumph over The Tyrant and to enjoyable Swedish wintertime food, fun and games (and for those interested, Vasaloppet is on SVT, Swedish Public Television - no commercials).