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Opening date: 12 February 1994
Closing date: 27 February 1994
Country of the host city: Norway (NOR) Candidate cities: Anchorage (USA), Oestersund / Are (SWE) and Sofia (BUL)
Guided by the Norwegian way of life Lillehammer’s Organizers created a backdrop for the Olympic Winter Games that emphasized a love of nature and respect for the environment.
Before the athletes had even taken to ice or snow, the events in Lillehammer were already guaranteed to stand out thanks to the IOC’s decision to shift the timing of the Olympic Winter Games to two years after the Games of the Olympiad. The Winter celebration would still take place every four years, just no longer in the same year as the Summer event. It is for this reason that the Games in Lillehammer took place in 1994.
Timing was not the only difference that set the XVII Olympic Winter Games apart from past editions though. Nor was it just the additional performances of the athletes who made the Games unique. Instead, the 1994 celebration is forever remembered as the ‘White-Green Games’, a celebration that blended Nordic winter sport roots history with efforts to promote and initiate environmentally sustainable practices.
Nordic inspiration came from many different sources. The Rødøy island skier rock carving was used to develop the sports pictograms designs, the Games emblem incorporated a stylised version of Northern lights and the mascots were named Håkon and Kristin after the 13th century grandson and daughter of King Sverre.
The Opening ceremony combined Norwegian culture and folklore with modernity. Sami people riding on sleds pulled by reindeers were replaced by Telemark skiers, and fairytale vetters and trolls quite literally emerged from the snowy ground to welcome the dove of peace. On a more serious note, IOC President Samaranch pleaded for the fighting to stop in Sarajevo, the city where the XIV Olympic Winter Games had been celebrated just ten years before.
The plea for peace would not be forgotten. Neither would the performances of the athletes or the evidence of the attention to environmental detail in the architecture of the competition venues.
The design for the speed skating oval, Hamar Olympic Hall was heavily influenced by the facility’s location at the site of an 11th century Viking boatyard. The Hall looked like an overturned ship and was blended into the surrounding scenery to minimize its impact on an adjacent bird sanctuary. The luge and bobsleigh track incorporated the existing contours of the land and used natural wood and stone building materials. Gjøvik Olympic Cavern Hall was an engineering marvel carved into rather than out of a mountain.
When the competitions began it was at these venues that ‘King Koss’, Dan Jansen, Wolfgang Hoppe and Sweden’s hockey team both delighted and moved the crowds with impressive performances, emotional victories and acts of humanitarian generosity. At Hamar Olympic Hall, Johann Olav Koss impressed with his three speed skating golds and three world records, a donation to charity and his challenge to others to remember Sarajevo and make their own donations. Dan Jansen also impressed, but in a different way, with an emotion packed victory in the 1,000m, a victory that, after eight years of spills, finally allowed him to pay tribute to the memory of his sister Jane.
At the luge and bobsleigh venue Wolfgang Hoppe was taking his final bow in the Olympic bobsleigh competitions. In Lillehammer he would add to his Olympic medal collection of 3 silvers and 2 golds by winning a bronze in the four-man event.
Fittingly, it was in the awe-inspiring Cavern Hall that the last equally awe-inspiring moment of athletic drama was played out at the Games. Before the Closing ceremony could take place there was still the Olympic ice hockey title to be won. The distinction would go to the Swedish team, but not before they had overcome the Canadian team in a nail-biting sudden death round that, along with all the other highlights of the 1994 Games, was destined to be talked about for years to come.
Bonnie Blair may have been small in stature but in the world of speed skating she was a giant.
Blair was a sprint specialist who had already collected 1 bronze and 3 gold Olympic medals when she took to the ice under the Viking roof of Hamar. Gold was not her only goal though. She also wanted to break the 39 seconds barrier in the 500m sprint, but it was not to be in Lillehammer. She would have to wait a while longer for that.
Instead, at the Viking ship, Bonnie was still fast enough to win her third straight 500m gold. In the 1,500m, she missed bronze by a skate blade but in the 1,000m, her last ever Olympic race, Blair was unbeatable. For one final time, Bonnie stood on top step of the Olympic podium.
In 1994, Gustav Weder and Donat Acklin achieved a unique double, one that no other bobsleigh team, either two-man or four-man, had ever achieved.
The road to that double actually began before Lillehammer, back in 1992 in Albertville where Weder and Acklin came from behind to capture gold in the two-man event. It was in Lillehammer though that history was made in an even tighter race. They needed to have the run of their life if they were going to take Donat Acklin’s brother and his team-mate to gain the gold. That was exactly what Weder and Acklin managed to do by a mere 0.05 seconds margin.
Gustav and Donat had won their second Olympic gold and in doing so they became the first team ever to repeat as Olympic champions in the two-man event.
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