In the past, speed-skating was a as large a spectator sport and
participation sport in Norway as cross-country skiing. Few Norwegian
sportsmen have become such popular heroes as the "kings of skating". More
recently skating has lost ground to cross-country skiing, ski-jumping and
alpine skiing and few skate at competition level.
The first speed skating competition of note was held in Oslo in 1863,
on the frozen fjord beneath the ramparts of Akershus Castle. Thousands
turned out to watch. The sport developed fast. Norway won innumerable
Olympic gold medals, and public interest grew, keeping pace with the good
The climax was reached in the early 1950s. Thirty thousand
spectators crowded into the arena to see the 1951 European Championships in
Oslo. Hjalmar Andersen, known as "Hjallis" and Norway's greatest skating
king of all time, damaged the edge of a skate during the crucial 10,000
metres. He was allowed to run the race again an hour later, and King Haakon
VII postponed an important meeting at the palace so that he could watch.
"Hjallis" won, and the nation was in ecstasy. The following year Hjalmar
Andersen gained three Olympic gold medals in Oslo.
Another of the great Norwegian skating kings was Knut "Kupper'n"
Johansen. Twice he was Olympic gold medallist, twice world champion and
eight times Norwegian champion between 1957 and 1964. He specialised in
long distances, and was the first to complete 10,000 metres in under 16
minutes. At Squaw Valley in 1960 he set his so-called unbeatable world
record of 15.46.6. Now the best speed skaters do 10,000 metres in well
under 14 minutes...
During the 1950s and 60s thousands of spectators would brave
-20° C weather to watch even small competitions out in the provinces.
The sport's popularity has declined ever since, and spectators now lack the
interest and stamina to voluntarily stand around and freeze outdoors.
With the exception of the 1980s, Norwegian speed skaters managed to
remain in the world elite. Johann Olav Koss won three gold medals in
Lillehammer '94 and became the figurehead of the Winter Games when he
donated his prize money to the charity Olympic Aid. After that, he chose to
retire from the sport and complete his medical studies. Among the small
circle of remaining skaters the hunt is on for an heir.
This will not be easy. Growing numbers of Norwegians prefer ice
hockey skates to speed skates.
Ice hockey and Figure skating
In winter in Norway almost every sheet of ice teems with children. Most of
them are playing ice hockey. In recent years many indoor ice rinks have
been built throughout the country. The standard of the national ice hockey
team reflects this development and is now at a respectable level. Norway is
still eclipsed by neighbouring Sweden, but the gap is closing. Norway today
is among the ten best ice-hockey nations in the world.
Sonia Henie was Olympic figure skating gold medallist in 1928, 1932
and 1936. Never before or since has Norway had figure skaters of
international ranking. And this sport has a very small following in Norway
Bobsleigh and Tobogganing
There is only one bobsleigh run in Norway built to international
specifications, and presumably there will be no others. Norway has never
been anywhere near winning a gold medal in this sport. Interest and
participation are minimal.
Olav Førde is assistant editor of Nytt fra Norge.
Produced for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Nytt fra Norge. The author is responsible for the contents of the article. Printed in June 1996.
Reproduced with permission from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.