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).

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's "Blåbärssoppa" and "Mora". Otherwise, great post.

Todd said...

I can't relate to the mayhem of 15,000 people with skis (unless you count Rockefeller Plaza at Christmas...but substitute skis for shopping bags), but I can relate to the strange use of blueberries. I was at a restaurant in Lake Placid and tried a hamburger with blueberries. I couldn't really taste them...but that could have been because of the cheddar cheese, bacon and onions. Strange blueberry food must be a winter sports thing...

Anonymous said...

I've been to Linköping myself as an exchange student and am now living in Seattle. The best thing is that IKEA worldwide stocks all these typical Swedish food items like Ahlgrens bilar, Dumle klubbar and blåbärssoppa, to let us Sweden lovers bask in nostalgic memories.

Ida said...

Well yeah of course we queue! You have to be polite, even in a competion... :-)

And great post as usual!!

Christopher Tassava said...

Great post - and nice blog! I found it with a search on Vasaloppet. As a skier and a wannabe Vasaloppp racer, I appreciate the spectator's-eye view. One quibble, though: an American has won Vasaloppet: Kerrin Petty, an American skiing with the Mora si club, won the women's 90km race in 1998, setting a still-standing female course record. (The best North American this year was an elite Canadian male, who finished 24th.)

Have a good Swedish spring!

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Kerrin Petty Nilsson who now lives in Karlstad!!!!