American Birkebeiner

34. Good loppets but too early

By Timo Hakulinen –

I got married in 1985, and the honeymoon trip was made to the USA. My wife liked this destination very much, but I had another idea behind this, too: On the same journey I could, with the completion of the American Birkebeiner, get my Worldloppet passport fully stamped. This is what happened, and I became Worldloppet Master no. 4 in Finland and no. 194 in the world. But the passport would have been appropriately completed already two years earlier, had I been allowed to include in it my first Finlandia-hiihto from 1976 and my first American Birkebeiner from 1978.

I would have got my second Worldloppet passport successfully competed in 2015, 30 years after my first one, would it have been possible to include in it my first Bieg Piastow from 1997 and my first Fossavatnsgangan from 2012. Only after having completed Bieg Piastow for the second time in 2016, everything was complete, and in 2017 I also became Master no. 4371 in the world. I have thus 32 years between my first and second Master title, which may successfully compete for the longest interval of its kind in our organization.

I have skied arranged long-distance loppet-type ski events from the age of 14, and probably participated at almost all of the most important ones in Finland at least once, including ski tours. The longest of them has been in 2017 “Skiing across Finland” (Hiihtäen Halki Suomen), 1800 kilometers in 33 days from the Gulf of Finland (Baltic Sea) to Tanafjord, Norway (Arctic Sea).

In 1976 Finlandia-hiihto, Dolomitenlauf, Marcialonga, König-Ludwig-Lauf and Vasaloppet were the Euroloppet-series. In 1978, the American Birkebeiner´s information newspaper, the Birch Scroll, had a headline in issue no. 2: “World Ski Marathon League To Be Formed”. The intention was to expand the Euroloppet-series worldwide. A three-day long meeting was held, hosted by the local strong leader Tony Wise. The worldwide league was to be founded in the same year at another meeting in Stockholm on June 10. But now, nevertheless, both Worldloppet and a different, also much expanded Euroloppet attract skiers from all over the world.

Perhaps, a bit of intimacy of the smallest races has been lost after joining the Worldloppet and thereafter growing. For example, in 2012 at Fossavatnsgangan, 56 skiers completed the 50 km distance, two of them from Finland. The other of them, Aino-Kaisa Saarinen (middle in the picture above), was near to beat even all the male contestants: She was leading the race after the first hour, and finally only Markus Jönsson from Sweden managed to reach the finish line before her. Annmari Viljanmaa from Finland (right in the picture) worked as the TA of the race. For me the race was tough as, due to extreme humidity and open terrain, I could not use my spectacles, and I always had to see a skier in front of me in order to see where to ski. It was even hard to tell where the air stopped and the surface of the snow started and whether the track was going uphill or downhill.

My very first Worldloppet American Birkebeiner in 1985 I had to complete using my right arm only. Of course, I had to show to my newly wed wife how skillful a skier I was, and three days before the race in Sierra Nevada, California, I made a big jump on skis while carrying someone else´s back bag. The left shoulder got hit by the bag and was dislocated before I landed, and at the Birkie I had my left arm solidly tied against my body for the whole race. Subsequently, this dislocation has followed me every now and then when skiing carelessly or being otherwise careless.

I have found so many good friends and had such a good time at these international races. Many of these friendships have lasted throughout life and expanded to friendships between families and friends. Worldloppet has played a very important role in promoting international ties!

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