Hedlund defies the elements
A lumberjack by trade, Sweden’s Per-Erik Hedlund lined up in the 50km and 18km cross-country races at Chamonix 1924, retiring from the first of those events and finishing sixth in the second.
In taking his place on the start line for the 50km at St Moritz four years later, Hedlund chose to dispense with Sweden’s customary blue uniform, opting instead for an all-white outfit made for him by the women of his home town of Sarna, a change in attire that did not go down well with his team-mates. By the time the race was over, however, Hedlund had turned the frowns to smiles.
Weather conditions for the event were particularly challenging, with the warm southerly wind known as the Foehn taking temperatures up to a decidedly unseasonal 25 degrees, causing the snow to melt and making the competitors’ choice of wax a decisive factor. While Hedlund and his fellow Swedes had the right wax for the occasion, their Norwegian rivals, who also had the disadvantage of starting later, did not.
Though Norway’s Ole Hegge defied the conditions early on to lead at the 5km, 9.4km and 15km checkpoints, no one could match Hedlund’s pace in the second half of the race, the Swede pulling out a lead of no fewer than eight minutes at the 38km mark, a cushion that allowed him the luxury of stopping to apply fresh wax his skis.
Hedlund kept the pace up after resuming and finished a full 13 minutes and 27 seconds ahead of the field, one of the biggest winning margins in Olympic history in the event, with compatriots Gustaf Jonsson and Volger Andersson coming in behind him to complete a Swedish one-two-three.
Hedlund’s time of four hours, 25 minutes and three seconds was a whole one hour more than Thorleif Haug took in winning gold in Chamonix four years earlier, an indication of just how tough the course was and of how remarkable the Swede’s achievement was in beating the field by such a large margin.Hedlund’s stunning triumph, which has prompted Sweden’s cross-country teams to wear white at every Winter Games every since then, also earned him the Svenska Dagbladet medal, an annual award for the most outstanding performance in Swedish sport.