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A sizeable field of 42 skiers, from eleven different countries, lined up for the start of the 18km cross-country competition at 9.30 on 10 February, but they did not all set off with the same ambitions. There were those out for victory in the event itself, and those competing in the Nordic combined with the goal of picking up the maximum number of points ahead of the second ski jumping segment. There were also those on a quest to achieve both those aims, such as Norway’s Johan Grøttumsbråten, the Olympic title holder in the 18km and combined.
Sven Utterström (SWE) was regarded as one of the pre-race favourites, having become the first Swede to succeed in the 50km at the renowned Holmenkollen Ski Festival in Norway, in 1929 and 1930. Also in 1930, he was crowned world champion over the same distance in Oslo.
Starting and finishing inside the main entrance gate at the Olympic Stadium, and including a climb of 500m, the course, featuring snow that had thawed and then refrozen, proved a tricky prospect for some competitors. The Swedes, however, took this in their stride, relying on their in-depth knowledge of waxing to choose the most appropriate substance for their skis.
Utterström carried his excellent form into the 18km, securing the gold medal with the fastest time, two minutes ahead of compatriot Axel Wikström. Finland’s Veli Saarinen, who would win the 50km three days later, finished a further 17 seconds back. Grøttumsbråten, meanwhile, ended up sixth, but as the fastest Nordic combined participant, he scored the highest number of points in that event.
Awarded the prestigious “Svenska Dagbladet” gold medal – traditionally bestowed upon the greatest Swedish athlete of the year – in 1929 alongside figure skater Gillis Gafström, Utterström also produced a successful nature documentary film, On the Bear’s Tracks, with his brother Johan in British Colombia (CAN) in 1931. At the World Championships in Innsbruck in 1933, he won a gold medal in the 4x10km team event and a silver in the 50km. He published his memoirs (The Village Ski Run: Memories and Words) prior to his death in 1979 at the age of 77.