2016-03-06 (Sunday)

Today, I learned that:

The 2016 edition of Vasaloppet, that took place earlier today, was the toughest of all the 92 races held so far. Details will follow later on, but let us first discuss what Vasaloppet is and why it is such an important  sports event.

It all started in 1397, when a meeting in the Swedish city of Kalmar, on the East Coast, resulted in a personal union between the kings of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, in which a new king, Erik of Pomerania, was elected to be responsible for both the domestic and foreign policies of the three sovereign states. But the nobility in both Sweden and Denmark did not accept to be put aside and so there were constant conflicts from the 1430s until the end date of the union, which happened in 1523.

The beginning of the end came in 1520, when the Danish king Kristian II (aka Kristian the Good One in Denmark / Kristian the Tyrant in Sweden) invited the Swedish aristocracy to a reconciliation party in Stockholm, but once there, had them all killed in what was later known as the Stockholm Bloodbath. But the nobleman Gustav Ericsson Vasa was able to escape and headed towards Norway. However, a speech he made in Mora, close to the Norwegian border finally convinced the people there to join him in a rebellion against Kristian, although it took so long for them to decide in favor of him that Gustav had already left for Norway on skis. When he arrived in Sälen, a town about 70 km away from Mora, going in a straight line, two good skiers from Mora were able to stop him, explaining that the others in Mora had decided to join Gustav in his battle against Kristian. After  battles in the following years, this rebellion finally led to that the Swedes defeated the Danish. So on June 6, 1523, Gustav Vasa was elected the new king of Sweden. Still today, that date is very important, being celebrated as the Swedish National Day.

In order to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the successful capture of Gustav Vasa by the two Mora skiers, there was instituted a cross-country race, and on March 19, 1922, the first Vasaloppet race was held, but in reverse direction, starting in Sälen and finishing in Mora. 136 skiers participated and the first winner was the 22-year old Ernst Alm, still today the youngest winner of all races held since.


A map showing start and finish, as well as all the intermediate check points of Vasaloppet.

Vasaloppet is the oldest and longest cross-country ski race in the world as well as the one with the highest number of participants, with a current maximum capacity of 15 800 athletes. Originally, the race was 85 km long, but it was prolonged to 90 km some decades ago. In Sweden, it is an almost sacred event, held on the first Sunday of March every year. The athlete with most wins (9 in total) over the years was named Nils Karlsson, with domicile in Mora, thus nick-named Mora-Nisse. The first non-Swede who won the race was the Finn Pekka Kuvaja in 1954. Nowadays, there is a steady fight by the best Swedish and Norwegian skiers, which the latter ones have won during the four most recent races.

Female athletes have been permitted to participate in the race since 1997, and also there is a big fight between Swedish and foreign skiers.

Now over to today’s race. The men’s race resulted in that 26 skiers entered the finish area with a chance to win, with four Norwegian skiers in the top places and the best Swedish skier in 6th place. The women’s race went to Austria and Katerina Smutná, with the leading World Cup skier, Sweden’s Britta Johansson Norgren, in second place.

Finish 2016

The finish of the toughest of all 92 races held so far, showing the winner John Kristian Dahl in the centre. Picture copyright vasaloppet.se

Update 2016-03-09:
Click on references #3 and #4 below to access the official web site of Vasaloppet and watch a video of the competition in 2016, respectively.

Problem # 4, Drilling square holes

This problem is very different from the earlier three riddles. The question is: How would you construct a tool to drill square holes? The solution seems impossible, but I have it, and will post it next Saturday, 2016-03-12.

… That’s what I learned in school !


1: Kalmar Union

2: About Vasaloppet in English

3: Results from Vasaloppet 2016

4: Video from Vasaloppet 2016

+: What did you learn in school today ?

2016-02-13 (Saturday)

Today, I learned that:

Winter in the Northern hemisphere is supposed to be filled with snow, so that people can enjoy the great outdoors making snowmen, having a snowball fight and of course bring out their skis for some exciting tournaments.

But the way we treat Mother Earth, sometimes she responds that we have to make our own snow. And that has happened again this year. Last Thursday, February 11, for the first in three years, there would be one more cross-country ski, in the sprint modality, arranged in the vicinity of the Royal Castle in Stockholm, Sweden. Well, the competition only occurred due to the hugh efforts of bringing in snow from far away and laying it on the ground for the athletes to compete.


The Swedish ski star Stina Nilsson in action during a qualification heat for the Royal Castle Sprint in Stockholm. Photos by Bildbyrån

And once more, it was the Norwegians that got most of the medals, both in the men’s and the women’s race, two out of three in each discipline. The Russian athlete Nikita Kriukov was the fastest among the male sprinters and Maiken Falla from Norway won the female race. The Swedish star Stina Nilsson, who headed the World Cup sprint table before the race, ended up with the bronze medal after yet another dispute about what is fair or not when trying to defeat a contender.

fenway park

Fenway Park set up for the FIS snowboard and ski big air events on February 11, 2016. Photo copyright by the Canadian Olympic Committee

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in Boston, MA, USA, there was another set of World Cup events on Thursday and Friday, Snowboarding and Big Air, respectively. Also here the setting was quite uncommon, inside of Boston Red Sox Stadium Fenley Park, where a 43 m tall scaffold ramp had been set up with all the snow to go with it. References 3 and 4 below give complete coverage of the events.

… That’s what I learned in school!


1: http://data.fis-ski.com/dynamic/results.html?sector=CC&raceid=25813

2: http://data.fis-ski.com/dynamic/results.html?sector=CC&raceid=25811

3: http://www.fis-ski.com/freestyle-skiing/halfpipe-slopestyle/news-multimedia/news/article=zimmerman-and-gagnier-hit-the-homerun-boston-iconic-balllpark.html

4: http://sverigesradio.se/sida/gruppsida.aspx?programid=3277&grupp=20430&artikel=6367836

+: What did you learn in school today ?