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A former blacksmith and lumberjack from Lima in central Sweden, Jernberg was regarded as the greatest long-distance skier of his time. Winning the first of his world titles in the 50km and 4x10km relay in Lahti (FIN) in 1958, he was the undisputed leader of the Swedish cross country skiing team that travelled to Squaw Valley two years later.
By now aged 31, the Swede won his first medal of the 1960 Games in the 30km, the opening event at the McKinney Creek Stadium. Setting off near the back of the field, Jernberg was in the perfect position to control the race. Starting 18 places ahead of him, his compatriot Rolf Ramgård had laid down a marker in crossing the line in 1:51:16.9, a time that gave him the race lead ahead of the Soviet Union’s Nikolai Anikin.
Pacing himself to perfection in his white uniform, Jernberg had opened up a 22-second lead on Ramgård at the 10km split, an advantage he still held at the 20km point. Though he eased off in the closing stages, the Swedish legend was 13 seconds clear when he stopped the clock, and was joined by his fellow countryman and Anikin on the podium at the Tower of Nations, where IOC President Avery Brundage presented him with the second Olympic gold medal of his career.
In the 15km three days later, Jernberg was one of only four competitors to cover the first five kilometres in less than 17 minutes and he headed the field after 10km, with a two-second lead over the 33-year-old Norwegian Håkon Brusveen, who had been a last-minute selection for the race.
The Swede nevertheless tired in the closing stages, while Brusveen produced a decisive spurt to secure the gold medal in a time of 51:55.5. Jernberg finished three seconds adrift to secure his third Olympic silver, while his old Finnish rival Veikko Hakulinen came in third.
After skiing the anchor leg as Sweden took fourth behind the USSR, Norway and gold medallists Finland in 4x10km relay, Jernberg went in search of another medal in the 50km. Yet despite making a flying start, he could do no better than fifth in a race that was won by Finland’s Kalevi Hamaläinen.
Jernberg went on to add to his Olympic medal collection in Innsbruck four years later, successfully defending the 50km title, claiming another gold in the 4x10km and adding a bronze in the 15km. His total haul of nine medals was a record at the time and one that stood for many years.