Norwegian Olympic skating team, circa 1960, returns to Tahoe

The 1960 Norwegian Olympic Speed Skating Team returned to Squaw Valley Wednesday to celebrate their victories and experiences 40 years ago at the VIII Winter Games.

"My breath was taken away, the feelings were a lot, everything was here," Norwegian Hroar Elvenes said, touching his throat as he described his impressions when entering Squaw Valley for the first time since his small team took home two gold medals and one silver medal.

The team is legendary in its own country - akin to marquee athletes in America such as Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali or Joe Montana - where skating is a national pastime and competition is fierce with neighboring Sweden and Finland.

The Norwegian skaters made history in 1960 when their teammate Knut Johannessen was the first man to break the 16-minute barrier in the 10,000-meter race, winning the gold medal against the tough Soviet skaters and breaking the world record by more than one minute.

"If you say three numbers, 15, 46, 6 to any Norwegian they will tell you, Knut Johannessen, 1960 Olympics, gold medal in world-record time in the 10,000-meter (speed skating event)," Elvenes said of his "very, very famous" friend's winning time of 15:46.6. It was just two-and-a-half tenths of a second faster than the silver medalist Kosichkin of the USSR.

The memories were flooding back as the team took a tram ride to the top of the mountain, each member excitedly pointing out to each other and their wives the downhill race course, the jump hill and the site where the Blyth Arena ice skating complex and the outdoor speed skating oval once stood in what is now the parking lot.

The entire team competed in Olympic events beginning in 1952 through 1968, earning medals in each and always seeming to finish in the top 10, and winning numerous world championships over the years.

"These seven boys have been competing, skating and training together for more than 40 years. We have good health and good friends. We meet once or twice a year," said Elvenes of the group which has formed their friendship into the Squaw Valley Club.

The team, now ranging in age from 62 to 72, toured the Olympic museum at the top of the Squaw Valley tram and were excited to see their pictures on the front pages of the old newspapers on display. Despite their fame in Norway, the skaters have never made skating a business.

"One's a gas station owner, one's a farmer, one's a salesman," said Elvenes, a road engineer.

The Norwegian team is in the Reno-Tahoe area for four days, being feted by the Sons of Norway Club with an honorary dinner in Reno. The group also attended a reception and tour of the Poulsen compound in Squaw Valley, where Sandy Poulsen and her family have displayed photos, trophies and other historical Squaw Valley items dating back to 1938 when Wayne Poulsen first had interest in the valley. In 1947 the Poulsens formed the Squaw Valley Development Company, the predecessor of Squaw Valley Ski Corporation and several family members have been Olympic and national championship skiers.

The complete team, including Roald Aas, Nils Aaness, Alv Gjestvang, Fred Anton Maier and Torstein Seiersten posed for pictures at Squaw Valley and were treated to a luncheon at High Camp. At the luncheon, tour organizer Ellen Hoel of Reno played a tape of a live-feed broadcast of the two gold medal races by Aas and Johannessen. The play-by-play replay was originally broadcast live in Norway, and never heard before by the athletes.

The excitement of the races was captured in the voice of the broadcaster, showing the astonishment of Johannessen's incredibly fast lap times. The athletes, hearing the tape for the first time, were leaning forward, listening to every detail. As the racers crossed the finish line the room erupted in applause. The two gold medalists stood in front of the group at High Camp, the 40-year gap in time becoming smaller and smaller as the Norwegian national anthem played on the boombox until they lived the moment again, atop the podium - tears of stoic joy and pride welling up in their eyes.


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