One of the world’s greatest skiing competitions takes place in Mora, in the Dalarna region of Sweden. The Vasaloppet, a 90 km (56-mile) cross-country skiing race, is the most popular sporting event in the country.
It is held every March to commemorate King Gustav Vasa’s flight from the enemies in the 16th century. Each year the race includes the present Swedish king, Carl XVI Gustav.
The first VASALOPPET was run on 19 March 1922, but really it is much older than that. The first Vasalopp was carried out as early as 1521 by Gustav Eriksson. Vasaloppet’s history begins in fact as early as 1520. Then Sweden was in a union with Denmark. Discontent with the Danish king was great, not least from Gustav Eriksson Vasa, whose opposition had resulted in his being imprisoned in Denmark. But the 24 year old Gustav managed to escape.
During his flight from the Danish king he stopped in Sälen and returned to Mora to lead the uprising against the occupation forces. Gustav Eriksson eventually united the realm and became Sweden’s first king, better known under the name Gustav Vasa. In other words, Sälen is not only the starting point for the world’s largest exercise race; it is also the starting point for the history of the country of Sweden.
In 1521, with the men from Dalarna at the head, Gustav began his battle. It took two and half years before the war was over and Sweden was a free land. On 6 June 1523 at a national assembly in Strängnäs, Gustav Eriksson Vasa was elected king of a free Sweden. Now he is a symbol for the world’s biggest ski competition – Vasaloppet!
Anders Pers, from Mora, is the father of Vasaloppet. It was from his thoughts that the world’s biggest ski race was born. He wrote about the contemporary interest in skiing and linked it to Gustav Eriksson Vasa’s flight on skis from Mora towards Norway in 1521.
In an article in a local newspaper, Vestmanlands Läns Tidning, on 10th February 1922, he launched the idea of a Vasalopp. The national newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, reprinted his article the day after and, at the same time, gave its support for a long ski race, a test of endurance, as a commemoration of Gustav Vasa. After some considerable press debate, both for and against the idea, IFK Mora’s Board decided on 5th March to run a trial race, if there was some suitable financial backing. Dagens Nyheter donated 1,000 crowns to the arrangers and thus made it possible for the first Vasaloppet to be run on Sunday 19th March 1922.
In total 136 registrations came in to the competition secretariat by telegraph and telephone. 119 skiers came to the start.
A Vasaloppet victory is regarded as highly as a podium place in the Olympic Games or the World Championships.
Did you know there’s also a Vasaloppet USA – in Mora, Minnesota?
The World’s Greatest Skiing Competition, written by Tor Kjolberg