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Sondre Norheim
- the
Skiing Pioneer of Telemark

A Torch for the XVII Olympic Winter Games – Lillehammer, Norway, 1994

This time there is a two-day ceremony in Morgedal. The ceremony begins at Øverbø late in the evening at November 26, 1993. A lot of people, most of them carrying torches, have walked the path up the steep hillside, and are now gathered in the yard this cold, starlighted night.

Åse Kleveland, Dorothy Lyon, Gerhard Heiberg
Photo by Eivind Molde

Among the invited guests is Dorothy Lyon of Atlanta, a great grandchild of Sondre. She is here as a guest of honour, invited by the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee (LOOC). Also present are Norwegian Minister of Culture, Åse Kleveland and President and CEO of the Organizing Committee, Gerhard Heiberg. The events at Øverbø are broadcast live on national TV.

Norwegian fire-lighting champion, Olav Bekken is invited to ignite the fire by using an old traditional technique. Olav is sitting in the middle of the crowd, spinning a piece of wood around, faster and faster, as it is pressed toward another piece of wood. The heat increases, and a few minutes after midnight a small ember is visible. Bekken blows intensively to keep the fire alive – and the fire survives.

Olav Bekken
© Kjetil Rolseth

The pinewood torch is lit, and Olav Bekken carries the torch the few metres to the cottage door, where he is met by Eivind Strondi and the seven-year-old Knut Råmunddal. Eivind then brings the torch to the fireplace inside the cottage, where the fire is lit and will be burning all night.

Next day HRH Princess Märtha Louise arrives at Øverbø together with other prominent guests, as live TV coverage resumes. Exactly at 12 noon the Princess lights the pinewood torch from the fireplace, as Eivind Strondi and Knut Råmunddal are present by her side. Outside the cottage she hands it over to the first runner, snowboard world champion Åshild Lofthus of Vinje in Telemark.

Several runners (running on their feet, not using skis) participate in the relay down to the centre of Morgedal, each of them carrying their own pinewood torch. The torches are lighted with fire from the previous runner. Down in the valley an audience of 5,000 people have gathered to join the ceremony.

HRH Princess Märtha Louise, Eivind Strondi, Knut Råmunddal
© Kjetil Rolseth

Minutes before entering the ceremony arena, the last runner, Knut Tore Apeland of Edland, Telemark is lighting an eternal flame at a special cairn in Lake Morgedal, just in front of the Sondre statue. The fire is still burning, as a memory of the Olympic ceremonies in Morgedal.

The Olympic Torch Relay
During the ceremony in Morgedal there are traditional folk songs and music, and there are speeches by Gerhard Heiberg, Åse Kleveland and other official guests. Finally, alpine skiing champion Atle Skårdal of Lunde, Telemark sets off with the torch – from now on it’s not a pinewood torch anymore, but a torch with a chemical flame.

The torch for the relay, carried by Gerhard Heiberg, is lit by fire from the pinewood torch, held by Åse Kleveland. To the right: the Olympic Mascots.
© Kjetil Rolseth

During a 75-day long Torch Relay about 7,000 torchbearers carry the flame to all parts of Norway, including Spitsbergen in the Arctic Ocean. The total distance is more than 8,000 kilometres. Wherever the Morgedal fire arrives, there are cultural events and lively festivals.

Speaking in Morgedal, the Minister of Culture, Åse Kleveland describes the Torch Relay as the biggest manifestation of cultural activity in Norway ever. She is referring to the fact that more than 2,500 cultural events would take place around the country during the next 2.5 months.

Organized by the Norwegian Post, the relay brings the Morgedal fire successfully to Lillehammer, where HM King Harald V is opening the Olympic Games on February 12, 1994.

The Morgedal Flame and the Olympic Flame
It was planned that the flame from Morgedal should unite with the flame from Olympia in Greece when the two torches met in Oslo on February 5. Because of Greek opposition against mixing the flames, however, they were held separately. There were high level discussions about this a short time before the torches met. So when HRH Crown Prince Haakon was lighting the Olympic Flame at the opening ceremony in Lillehammer, he used the torch brought from Olympia.

After Lillehammer, the flame from Morgedal continued to the Paralympics, held in the mountain ski resort of Beitostølen.

In 1952 and 1960 the flame from Morgedal was used when the official Olympic Flame was lit at opening ceremonies in Oslo and Squaw Valley.

Edward Schafer is picking up a branch of the torch in Skien
Photo by Per-Eirik Hekkelstrand, Varden

Eternal flames in Morgedal and Minot
On December 1, as the Torch Relay is in Skien (the Norwegian sister city of Minot, North Dakota), a branch of the fire is picked up by then North Dakota Governor Edward Schafer.

He brings this torch on the plane back to Minot, where it is carried by Minot and Bottineau ski patrols to Sondre’s gravesite at Norway Lutheran Church Cemetery south of Denbigh. Lars Berge Haugan of Morgedal carries the torch on the last leg, and a ceremony is held at Sondre’s grave on December 3.

The next day the torch is transported back to Minot again. Here the Sondre Norheim Eternal Flame is lit by Lars Berge Haugan, close to the Sondre statue in the Scandinavian Heritage Park.

The flame in Minot is lit by Lars Berge Haugan
Photo by Minot Daily News

The Eternal Flame Monument was designed by Minot artist Sheldon Larson.

The five aluminium skis symbolizes the five Nordic countries.

The globe represents the many contributions to the sport of skiing that Sondre gave to the world.

The flames in Morgedal and Minot are still burning.

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