Wednesday, October 31, 2001 - Perspective
Junior National Team Update: Little Cunnings of a Big King (Part 1)

- By: Dasha Gaiazova

A while ago I found an article describing Gunde Swan's psychological "games" he played with virtually everyone: his competitors, reporters and even his fans. Here are some interesting short stories about Gunde Swan, which were taken from his autobiography book. These stories reveal how his eccentricity could be an example of some rather unusual racing strategies which perhaps brought Gunde his success and enormous popularity.

The name of Gunde Swan is probably familiar to most, if not every cross-country skier and skiing fan. Before 1993 World Championships in Falun, he said he was preparing a big surprise, however nobody saw it, simply because Gunde wasn't even there! 2 years earlier, just before his victory at 30km race at Swedish Championships in 1991 in Timro, the great Gunde announced that he was going to take a break but certainly will come back. One radio commentator argued that those who once stop never come back, to which Swan answered that he was going to prove an opposite. Of course, everybody believed Gunde and waited, but he retired as a legendary champion and a master of faking, which he enjoyably describes in his book "Where the border is..."

#1 - How Swan cheated Smirnov
This incident happened at the World Cup in Bohini. Probably Vladimir doesn't like to think about it, perhaps, he still doesn't know what really happened there. "It was a relay and I was racing the fourth leg with Smirnov, I left first and I had a small advantage over him. One km later Vladimir easily caught me, but to my surprise, didn't dare to pass. Probably he thought that I was going slowly to preserve my energy for a later try, but I simply had no more energy at all! He was waiting when I'll make my move and I was thinking: "Let him wait, anyways I know that I can't speed-up!" The closer we came to the finish the greater my chance was- I was still able to do a small sprint. I continued to ski slowly, but at the same time tried to look as energetically as I could. Less than 1km to the finish a Russian coach yelled something to Smirnov, but it was too late, I saved some energy for a final move. Sweden won the relay, but I felt ashamed that I cheated Vladimir, because he was much stronger that day. Perhaps, he was trying to decide, looking at me, if he should risk, and I played on that, because my authority was enormous at that time. But if he just passed me and tried to go away, I wouldn't be able to catch up with him."

#2 - The "Pole"
"If you do things the same way as everyone else, then chances are, that you'll achieve as much as the rest or may be even do worse! That's why go your own way." These are the first words of the chapter where he describes the 1985 World Championships in Zeefield where he borrowed an invention of Gustaav Vasa (the Swedish King, who made a 90km trip which transformed into Vasaloppet race) - a 2m10cm bamboo pole. "I put a handle on it and painted it black, so it looked like from a store. I trained only in deep woods, where nobody could see me. It turned out that the "pole" worked even better when I had anticipated, it was more effective on the uphills rather than downhills. I took it with me to Davos and hide it in my ski bag before the World Championships. I took the bag with me to the stadium, quietly took out the pole, and went on the middle of the stadium so everybody could see me as I skied through the whole stadium! I went with a terrific speed along the side with judges and press. Everybody stared at me with their mouth wide open: experts, journalists, coaches...Russians were applauding and Norwegians announced a protest- they were very nervous. FIS almost immediately forbidden the use of my "pole", and now thanks to me it is stated in the rules that a skier has to have two poles. The interest to my "pole" was enormous and I'm still wondering what would happened if FIS would allow the use of a single pole. Anyway, the score was already 1:0 in my favor even before the World Championships began.


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