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St. Moritz 1948

Lundström and Sweden dominate cross-country events

Things were rarely quiet when Martin Lundström was around. Born into a family of 15 children, he had been a farm worker since he was a boy growing up in rural Sweden. Lundström began working in the woods when he was just 13 and also skied to school, growing into a tough young man who was utterly at home on snow.

He contracted tuberculosis when he was 21, and had to spend six months in a clinic to recover, but showed the resilience that was to become his trademark to recover to such an extent that, a year later, he was winning significant cross-country races.

He was still working in the forests until his late 20s, but then took a job in town and concentrated on his sport. The results were astounding – in 1947 Lundström won 12 out of the 19 races he started, including the warm-up event for the 1948 Olympic Winter Games. But few really expected him to win at the Game, having never won the national championship.

Instead the favourite for the 18km was another Swede, Nils Karlsson, known as Mora-Nisse. He set off quickly but then began to struggle, apparently having trouble breathing the thin air. Instead, it was Lundström, who had been apparently lumbered with the first Swedish number, who took control of the event, eventually holding off the challenge of two other Swedes – Nils Östensson and Gunnar Eriksson – to win by half a minute. Four Swedes finished in the top five; there were five Finns in the top ten.

In the 4x10km relay, Sweden's dominance was extraordinary. The weather was not kind and the Swedes, who had perfected a new style of cross-country skiing that their rivals had yet to master, were in a class of their own.

Lundström, who was on the anchor leg, even had time to stop and re-wax his skis before leading his nation home to take gold by a margin of nearly nine minutes, a level of dominance that has never been matched since. Finland, who took silver, were two minutes ahead of Norway, who were in turn nearly three minutes clear of fourth-placed Austria. Rarely in Olympic history have the finishing positions been more pronounced!

Lundström returned to the Olympic arena four years later when, at the age of 33, he took a bronze medal in the 4x10km relay. He continued working in the forests and competed in veteran skiing events until he was 80 years old.

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