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Thorleif Haug. The man from ”the forests” who became Olympic champion
During the long winter Thorleif runs downhill to school in Vivelstad valley. Thorleif lives high up, at Årkvisla, on a small farm close to the forest rim, and within a short distance to the great Finnemarka forests which stretch from Drammen to Ringerike.


By Lars Aaserud Translated by Åse Klundelien

Thorleif’s father was a farmer and a craftsman. He made skis to all his children, and they used them well all winter long. There is always a lot of snow in winter at Årkvisla. Ski tracks from Drammen pass by here, and lead to a forest cabin, where people can have a simple meal in the week-ends. Lots of people pass by on skis just outside Thorleif’s home. Cross country competitions take place here as well, and strong guys whiss by. Thorleif thinks that this must be great fun, and when all the grown-ups have passed, he puts on his skis and follows them.

At school, the young skier was sitting at his place by the window and dreaming of being in the forests. In winter in the ski track and the ski jumps, in spring in the forests, on the paths, by the brooks. He was longing for the birds’ song, and the capercaillie mating game at the mash, for the places where a trout will willingly take the bait on a good day. Thorleif was daydreaming and longing for the out-door life. Sometimes he would miss what the teacher may speak about from the master’s desk. But Thorleif is ready for the breaks.

He is looking forward to get out in the ski jump which is close to the school. By and by Thorleif has become a master on his skis. The girls who are standing near to the take-off, send him admiring looks. They observe how the brave boys take off, steady come down, and make an elegant turning at the bottom of the hill. The girls are cheering, and the boys are stirred up. Quite soon, Thorleif is number one in the school ski jump. He is planning to measure up to jumpers in the real big jumps – as soon as he will be big enough.

Thorleif’s first winning price for ski jump was a box of 5 kilos of oranges. That was something great. Oranges were rare when he grew up. His mother and father and three siblings really enjoyed the taste of the ski jump price.

Thorleif wanted to go on winning. As early as in 1911, he embarked upon the Strødtvedt ski jump at Toppenhaug, near the centre of Drammen city. 6000 spectators were present, also the King was there. Thorleif was only 16, and he did not reach the top of the winners’ list, but he was inspired to go on practising, cross country as well as ski jumping.

Some years later, he returned to Strødtvet ski jump and sat a hill record, which was 52,5 metres. Crown prince Olav also participated in the competition. Thorleif registered that the Crown prince was real nervous, and offered him a pinch of snuff. After the competition, Thorleif and the Crown prince went to Årkvisla to party.

In the hard tracks around Holmenkollen, Thorleif thrived. His strength and technical skill came in handy, in demanding downhill slopes and challenging uphills. Thorleif was absolutely outstanding, and won the hard 50 km cross country competition six times. No skier has ever matched that record. Once it could have turned out to be disastrous. As usual, Thorleif went at it hammer and thongs, and was in the lead, when he felt that his body was completely drained. He was weak, his body felt empty, and his skis were dragging along. He was not in the lead anymore, two Swedes were in front. Luckily, some of his friends were there, close to the track, and offered him root beer and oatmeal soup. That saved him. After a short break he recovered, felt strong again, he spurted on and just managed to pass the two Swedes. Thus the Norwegian glory was restored in Holmenkollen once more.

Thorleif achieved his greatest victory in the first Winter Olympic games which took place in Chamonix, France ( Semaine des Sports d’Hiver).

Thorleif Haug 1 Thorleif Haug 2


Thorleif became the great champion. He was in great shape, he had been in training camp in the forests. He was strong and slender, and his muscles were supple. He was absolutely terrific, and he won the hard 50 km race, the 18 km race, and the combined (ski jump and cross country) competition. Thus, Norway got three gold medals, and the Norwegian reporters wrote to their newspapers, “ We showed the world the winter road”. But it was Thorleif who was the only one to show everybody “the winter road”.

When he returned to Drammen by train, after all his successes, he was carried in triumph on his skier-friends’ shoulders over the Drammen bridge, and they entered the big party in the Drammen Bourse. During the party, time and again Thorleif had to come to the balcony and receive the cheers.

But there was an abrupt return to everyday life for the Ski King, as he was now called. After he had finished his ski career, he worked as a plumber in Drammen. But the old ski hero and pride of Drammen was not forgotten. Everybody wanted their share in the Ski King. Time and again Thorleif had to tell about his triumphs, and he was offered a drink or two while the stories of the great ski achievements were recalled. The stories had to be told over and over, and Thorleif forgot to take care of his health. On a chilly November day he was in soaking wet clothes in a deep trench, where he was connecting pipes. He then turned ill. A bad cold developed into a feverish pneumonia. Abrupt and unexpected the Ski King died in his home at Øren, in December 1934. A wife and two young daughters were his surviving family.

Elderly people still remember the huge procession of mourners who walked behind the horse and chart with the coffin, from Øren to downtown. The funeral ceremony took place in the newly built Turnhallen sports hall, where the dense crowd had to get tickets to get in. People were packed along the streets when the coffin was taken to the graveyard.

People in Drammen still remember the great Ski King. A memorial has been raised just by the entrance to the Spiral road. On a pedestal stands the Ski King, looking towards the forests; maybe dreaming about the ski tracks and the birds’ song on the mash in Finnemarka.

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Sist endret 01.03.2010 Terje Bautz
Opprettet 01.03.2010 Terje Bautz
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