Cross-country skiing: exertion in the sulky snow - 100th Wasa run in Sweden

This sound is unique: when 16,000 cross-country skiers start moving at the same time, when 16,000 pairs of ski poles stick into the snow and 16,000 pairs of skis begin to glide.

Cross-country skiing: exertion in the sulky snow - 100th Wasa run in Sweden

This sound is unique: when 16,000 cross-country skiers start moving at the same time, when 16,000 pairs of ski poles stick into the snow and 16,000 pairs of skis begin to glide. The rush after the starting signal at the Wasalauf in Sweden radiates its own energy.

And the participants need that because they have 90 kilometers ahead of them and a maximum of twelve hours. The "Vasaloppet", as the Swedes call it, is the largest cross-country skiing race in the world with around 16,000 participants. Today it takes place for the 100th time.

Slightly plus degrees and rain in the still deeply snow-covered Dalarna region in the previous days made the snow soft and wet. On the morning of the race it was raining in the start location of Sälen. The trails were salty and more strenuous to ski on.

Norwegian double victory

Nevertheless, the elite runners set top times. Torleif Syrstad (3:52:43 hours) and Emilie Fleten (4:23:06 hours) ensured a Norwegian double victory in the prestigious competition, which is considered the toughest cross-country skiing race in the world.

In addition to a group of elite runners, including the 13-time cross-country skiing world champion Petter Northug from Norway, amateur athletes traditionally make up the majority of participants. Germany's best ski marathon runner Thomas Bing from Bad Salzungen in Thuringia crossed the finish line in 35th place after 4:08:41 hours. He had hoped to finish in the top 15.

Cross-country skiing national coach Peter Schlickenrieder, who ran the Wasalauf in 4:57:10 hours in 2015, said about the role of the weather: "There is a difference whether the snow is frozen and you have a fast cross-country ski trail - or whether there is fresh snow , which slows you down and makes the route feel twice as long." It's about adjusting to the conditions and waxing the skis properly.

In addition to suitable material, runners need fitness and patience. The starting field is around 600 meters long. 50 cross-country ski trails are laid out side by side. Shortly after the start, the route narrows and leads up a steep climb. There is a dense traffic jam. Broken ski poles in the snow are evidence of the crowding. It can easily take an hour for the runners behind to pass this bottleneck - and the clock is running relentlessly.

“Real exertion” for amateur runners

“Many amateur runners take forever, and it is a nice ceremony that the last person is accompanied to the finish by a torch runner and celebrated there by the spectators,” said Schlickenrieder. The performance of those who spend twice or three times as long as the elite cannot be overestimated. “These are real hardships.” The Wasalauf pushes you to your limits - also mentally. He calls the race “the Ironman of cross-country skiers” and a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Thomas Bing summed up the special atmosphere like this: "You feel the pressure of the 16,000 cross-country skiing enthusiasts behind you. There is a brutal energy when you arrive at the starting area." The importance of the race is “huge”.

One of the most famous and influential Wasa runners is the Norwegian winner from 2004, Anders Aukland. The tradition, the atmosphere and the crowd made the Wasalauf something special - apart from the distance to be covered, he told the dpa. In order to win the Wasalauf, you have to master the technique of double-pole pushing - over long distances. This has to be specially trained. Wasalauf winners are the “best double polers in the world”. The right wax strategy also plays an enormous role. Aukland ended his career as an elite runner in 2023 at the age of 50.

German Wasa runners - a winner so far

The German double world champion Axel Teichmann made his Wasalauf debut, finishing in 5:03:19 hours. The DSV coach took on the 90-kilometer challenge ten years after his time as a competitive athlete. The result should not be the focus for him, but rather the experience, as he told the dpa in advance. He prepared for the race primarily with arm training, but as a trainer he tries to keep himself fit anyway.

Among the amateur runners was Carsten Albrecht from Zingst on the Baltic Sea, who completed his first Wasalauf in 2019. He grew up in the Harz Mountains and learned cross-country skiing there. The Wasalauf was always a goal for him. At the age of 55, he thought to himself: "If I don't do this now, it won't work anymore," he says. Then he started training “like crazy”, on roller skis due to the lack of snow on the Baltic Sea. He crossed the finish line after 7:58:01 hours. His first thought afterwards: “Never again!” But then the Wasa fever didn't let him go. In 2024, at the age of 60, he competed for the fifth time.

Sven Kaltofen from Sayda in Saxony also had the Wasalauf as a goal in mind when he was a teenager. The older club colleagues would have raved about it. He was there for the first time in 2000. In 2024, the 46-year-old made his way from Sälen to Mora for the 25th time. He wants to complete 30 Wasa runs in total. It won't be boring and he won't be really nervous anymore. It's always exciting to see how he gets through it. "The body gets older, the material gets better. That should balance out," he said. His fastest time was 4:59:09 hours, but it also took him just over seven hours.

For Albrecht and Kaltofen, it's the surroundings that give the Wasalauf the flair. This includes enthusiastic spectators handing out chocolate and fruit. Helpers were again at seven refreshment stations and served the famous blueberry soup. There were also dry rolls, broth and energy drinks. According to the organizers, 3,500 volunteers were involved in the Wasalauf. State of emergency.

The only German to ever win the Wasalauf is Gerd-Dietmar Klause from Vogtland. In 1975 he completed the distance in 4:20:22 hours. The fact that 49 years later he is still the only German winner is a “small sensation,” said Klause.

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