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Norway shapes up for the Olympics.

Long after the snow melted last spring, 210 residents of Trysil, Norway, clamped on a single pair of skis and trekked two miles across the city they boast is "the fittest in the country." The skis--558 feet long-- were specially crafted at the local saw mill, and the skiers--ages nine to 78--managed to go the distance in less than an hour. A drummer set the pace, the mayor led the way, and the whole town cheered them on. After the walk was history, the skis were cut into memento-sized strips and distributed among participants. The recipients reacted as if each had earned an Olympic gold medal.

"When it comes to fitness, we want to be one stick (ski pole) ahead of the rest of the country," says Roar Vingelsgaard, organizer of Trysil's ski trek and the week of sporting events leading up to it. "Our goal is for everyone to walk, run, or cycle 15 kilometers (9.3 miles). We don't look for winners; we just ask for participation." And he gets it. This year, 75 percent of the town's 7,000 residents joined in the fun.

Motivated by the Winter Olympics-to begin Feb. 12 on the slopes of picturesque Lillehammer--Norway is a nation in training. The vision: "We want to become the most active and healthy population in the world," says Tommy Gullord, one of several movers and shapers of a four-year campaign called "A Nation in Shape for the Olympics."

The idea for the national fitness program surfaced after a 1988 study revealed only half of Norway's 4 million people exercise regularly. Gullord and his colleagues decided the Winter Games, with their focus on fitness, might provide the perfect incentive for people to shape up. By the time the Olympic torch is carried by relay team across Norway's 19 counties and up to Lillehammer's Lysgardbakkene Ski Jumping Arena next year, campaign planners hope three-fourths of the population will be exercising two or three times a week. Besides providing obvious health benefits to participants, the shape-up campaign is designed to boost awareness and support for the Olympics and promote a spirit of unity throughout the country.

"This way the Games are an event for the whole population," Gullord says. "Everybody is involved; everybody is preparing."

Norway hasn't hosted the Olympics in more than 40 years, and few Norwegians expected to beat out big brother, Sweden, for the honor in 1994. The first reaction from Lillehammer was excitement, said Liv Hukset of the Olympic Development Association. Then reality set in. "People asked, 'Oh, my goodness, what have we done?'" she recalls. Concerns elevated when executives carrying briefcases stuffed with blueprints began descending on the small town of 23,000. There were roads to re-route, ski jumps to erect, a media center to construct, and dormitories to outfit.

"We've seen a lot of changes in a short while," says marketing consultant Gry Kristin Jorstad, who jokes she sometimes gets lost in her own hometown. But she emphasizes that construction has been top quality; care has been taken to blend the new facilities with the environment. Also, structures such as an art museum and culture center have been unexpected bonuses that the city will enjoy long after the 1,800 athletes and 100,000 daily spectators move on and the flame is carried to Atlanta, site of the '96 Summer Games.

Most Norwegians share Jorstad's enthusiasm. They see the Olympics as an opportunity, replete with 16 days in the international spotlight.

"The Olympics aren't a goal, but a way of reaching a goal," Hukset explains. With more than 7,000 journalists set to record the events and half the world's population equipped to watch the action, Norway will have ample opportunity to showcase its country, share its traditions, promote its healthy lifestyle, introduce its physically fit people, and, finally, nudge the rest of the world to come up and visit sometime. Tourism should boom. As Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland said shortly after Lillehammer earned the honor of hosting the event: "Norwegians introduced winter sports to Central Europe, the Norwegian emigrants brought them to North America. Now we're inviting the world back to the cradle of skiing."

Those who accept Brundtland's invitation won't be disappointed.

Just as the Games have initiated new interest in physical fitness, so have they rekindled appreciation for all things Norwegian. History is recalled via official Olympic mascots Kristin and Hakon, colorful figures that date back to the 13th century. Ski sweaters that feature traditional Scandinavian designs are in yearround demand, and many women are reviving the painstaking art of producing their own. Then there's the renaissance of Norwegian foods. Close to Lillehammer's main thoroughfare is the Olympic Pantry ("Det Olympiske Spiskammer"), a restaurant inspired by the country's great culinary traditions. Nutritionist Torunn Linneberg proposed the pantry as a way to promote old-fashioned dishes and allow skilled chefs to pass along traditional cuisine to a generation that has grown out of touch.

"The trend has been toward TexMex, Italian, French, and fast foods," says Linneberg. "People wondered if Norwegian foods would 'sell.' We opened the pantry in May 1992, and our income has doubled 20 times since then." The menu changes monthly to reflect foods of various regions. All ingredients are fresh, and mainstays include Norwegian brown cheese (Ski-Queen), cloudberries, salmon, and pike.

"The pantry is a central idea to our food tradition," Linneberg explains. "The cold climate made it essential to preserve food by smoking, curing, and salting fish and meat. Throughout the centuries, these methods were well known in Norwegian kitchens. We expect a renaissance for them today because they are all natural methods that allow preserving without use of artificial additives." An all-Norwegian cookbook is one of the many spin-off products the Lillehammer Olympics will produce.

If the Games have sparked new interest in sports and nutrition among the population, they also will leave behind a range of first-class facilities to encourage continued involvement in health and fitness. The Hamar Olympic Hall, site of the speedskating competition, will be cared for by the Hamar Fire Brigade and used for soccer, curling, and indoor crosscountry skiing. The Lillehammer Olympic Alpine Centre will host future downhill ski events. Hakon Hall, used during the Games for ice hockey, will be turned into a multipurpose facility for squash, bowling, and shooting. The Birkebeineren Ski Stadium will be the site of biathlon, dog-sledding, and orienteering events.

"We hope the emphasis on fitness will continue long after 1994," says Tommy Gullord, consultant to the national shape-up campaign.

In planning their really big show, Norwegians seem to have thought of everything. Even snow. Of course, the worst scenario for any Winter Games host country would be an absence of the white stuff. But not to worry. On Feb. 12, 1993--exactly one year before Lillehammer's opening ceremonies--the city was blanketed with just the right amount of fluffy precipitation. "Surely a good omen," agreed knowledgeable townsfolk. More recently, a selfproclaimed weather forecaster from nearby Elverum went foraging in the woods and emerged with a twig of local bush, heavily laden with red berries. As every Norwegian knows, an abundance of these particular berries assures an upcoming abundance of snow.

But for skeptics in need of a back-up plan: Olympic overseers have mobilized area trains with empty boxcars ready to head north where surplus snowdrifts abound. And then there are the snow-making machines.

Follow the Leader

When famed Norwegian marathoner Crete Waitz hosted her first 5K run for women 10 years ago in Oslo, more than 3,000 runners turned out to follow their leader through the city's winding streets. This year, entries in the now-annual Grete Waltz Run topped 40,000 and had to be closed two months before the event. Waitz estimates 99 percent of the participants are Norwegians, and the majority choose to run comfortably for fitness rather than competitively for honors.

It's a small wonder that Waltz1984 Olympic medalist, winner of nine New York City marathons, member of the Norwegian Olympic Committee. and Runner's World "female runner of the quarter century" -- serves as spokeswoman and consultant for the country's four-year campaign to get in shape for the Olympics.

"We want to show the world we are a healthy nation." Waitz explains. "We're encouraging people to build simple physical activity into their daily lives ."

She and her husband currently divide their time between Oslo and Gainesville, Fla., an arrangement that prompts comparisons of the physicalfitness levels in the two countries. Ever the diplomat, she is gentle in her criticism of burger-munching Americans.

"I generally talk with people who are involved in health and fitness rather than the average man on the street," she says. "But the people I see in the American malls are different; they're heavier. If they are going out to buy a newspaper a half mile from home, they drive their cars!" This lack of physical activity is compounded by Americans' fondness for snack foods. "Wherever you go in the States, you find fast foods that are available and cheap," she says. "I think Norwegians eat more nutritiously."

She also notes shifts in exercise preferences.

"If you go back 10 years, people ran as often as five times a week. Now they might run twice and do aerobics on the other days. Of course, when Americans do something, they don't do it 100 percem, they do it 110 percent. That's what happened with running. Too many people did too much of it and got bored or injured. Now they're trying other activities; they're not using running as the only way to stay fit."

Waitz counts herself among people who cross train.

"I bike a lot. I retired from competition two years ago, but I still run; it's part of my life. The difference is now I take it nice and easy...I only run six to eight miles a day ."

Just in Case

If you're planning a trip to Norway:

Avoid time-consuming layovers by taking the daily direct flight from Newark, NJ, to Oslo on SAS Airlines (1-800-221-2350). Oslo--a compact, visitor-friendly city of 450,000--is 20 minutes from Fornebu Airport and can be reached quickly and cheaply by bus (about $4.50). Getting around Norway is easy, thanks to punctual trains and cordial people who genuinely like Americans. Olympic venues are within two hours of Oslo Central Station, and trains will leave every 10 minutes during the Games. Language is not a problem because most Norwegians have studied English since age 11 and are fans of CNN and MTV. Tip: Pack casual and be prepared for l-o-n-g, cool evenings. For more information, contact the Norwegian Tourist Board, 655 Third Ave.. NY, NY 10017 or call (212) 949-2333.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on marathon runner Grete Waitz
Author:Miller, Holly G.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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