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Physical culture in Norway

by Rudolf Ness

RUDOLF NESS is Norway’s most prominent advocate of the weight-training way of life, and author of the internationally famous book, “Kruppskultur”.

Scandinavians in general and the Norwegian people in particular, are very outdoor-minded. Any fine week-end sees a mass trek from the towns out into the country, up into the mountains or to the coast and fjords; and in many instances, even working-class people have their own sporting huts where they can enjoy their free hours and vacations. Norway, land of mountains and woods, is not densely populated and there is ample space and privacy for all.

At Easter, the Norwegians take a week’s holiday and during this period vast numbers of people spend their time close to nature in huts, farms and special hotels in company with the British, Danish and Swedish folk who come to Norway at this time to ski and enjoy the wonderful scenic beauty. If the sun is kind — and it usually is — it is a grand company of dark-skinned individuals which returns to work at the end of the vacation.

In the winter-time, there are often opportunities for long trips on skis; unlike the Swiss, the Norwegians often prefer day-long tours on skis to the shorter downhill races common in the Alps.

The man-in-the-street is very sport-minded too. In summer, his interest lies chiefly in soccer, track and field events and sailing tournaments (these latter afford him the chance of a dip in fjord or sea). In winter, speed-skating and especially ski-jumping and downhill races are tremendously popular. Contestants fight it out over four distances in speed-skating, the best man over all four being declared the winner, and this is often very thrilling to watch. We have recently had the pleasure of a visit from Jack Cronshey who, quite unknown to a great part of the British public, has become one of the world’s best long distance speed-skaters. He has learnt good Norwegian, an international skating language.

Ski-jumping has a large following, and Mr. Average Man is very knowledgeable about the sport. The principal event in this country is the international Holmen-Kollenplays, held every year, in March, near Oslo, the Capital. Here the world’s best skiers foregather and it is not unusual for 100,000 spectators to be present at the special jumping event. After Holrnenkollen, the Swedes hold their own Sollefteaplays and the Finns their famous Lahtiplays. Denmark, where snow seldom lies for any length of time, also has its Holtekollen ski-jumping event on a hill near Copenhagen, in which Scandinavia’s best ski-jumpers take part. But suppose there is no snow, you ask? Well, the answer is simple, it is sent by train from Kongsberg, famous Norwegian town of ski-jumpers! !

Little publicity is given to weight-lifting as a sport in Norway and the Norwegian Weight-lifters’ Association works under difficult conditions. The sporting journalists are not very interested in what they regard as a minor sport.

The average Scandinavian has little interest in body-building, he is a great believer in outdoor life and admires character immensely, but the promotion of male physique contests would only arouse ridicule.

To introduce weight-training and body-building to Scandinavia, it is necessary to stress the benefits of heavy exercise for better health and for better results at work and in sports other than the “Iron Game” itself.

Nine months before the Olympic Games were scheduled to take place, we had a good 8-oar team. Birger E. Larsen, a Bergen athletic coach, and myself believed that the introduction of weights in their training programme would help enormously and to this end the boys were trained intensively, much attention being given to make them quick as well as very strong. At Henley, that Norwegian team placed third to U.S.A. and Britain in the eighth race. This was a great surprise to most Norwegians as they have little belief in the value of weight-training. I shudder to think what would have been said had the experiment failed to justify itself. This medal award in the Games meant that our form of training received a little more publicity.

Sverre Farstad, Olympic 1,500 metres ski-jumping champion and European champion, 1949, is also a weight-lifter and endorses the use of ” iron” as an aid to athletes in other sports. Farstad has equalled the world record of 41.8 seconds for 500 metres speed-skating … and they say weight-training makes a man slow!

Here in the Bergen district of Western Norway, the hard struggle to obtain recognition of the benefits of weight-training when allied to specialised sports is at last bearing fruit, and new ground is being steadily gained. The leading coaches are firm in their belief in the use of ” Iron ” in the basic training for a large variety of sports. Unfortunately, weights are costly and with up to 50 men training at a club at one time, the difficulties can be well understood. However, by implementing what weights are available with heavy sandbags, good results are being achieved.

A specimen programme commences with free exercises, limbering-up movements, indoor running, etc. Following this comes up to one hour’s exercise with such apparatus as Roman rings, parallel bars, the horse (for quickness) plus, of course, sandbags and weights. For the latter, the class works in two sections, No. 1 with dumb-bells and barbells for the heavy body-building exercises, No. 2 with quick weight-lifting movements and abdominal boards. For the final phase the trainees plav very fast basket-ball or handball, using one or two large medicine balls.

All athletes can benefit immensely from a regular weight-training, bodybuilding course, adapting this to their specialized needs. The use of many quick movements, with and without weights, will give the man who practises them a tremendous advantage over his rivals who decry these methods. Examples of quick exercises without weights are sprints, quick gymnastic movements, badminton, table-tennis and fencing. For weight exercises, the use of sandbags and the incorporation of the fast lifts into a training programme can be of great help. Use moderate weights to begin with. Speed and yet more speed is vitally important in many sports. It is very often the last stretch which decides the winner of a race and it is the man who possesses speed and strength who will emerge the victor.

If you want to be in the top flight, you must train and train. Some journalists have created the impression that sport is baby play and play again. But you will never reach an international standard by merely playing around. It docs not necessarily mean that you must put in more training time than ever before, but the intensity of the effort must be greater. When people see a runner like Harrison Dillard they are apt to say “How easy the whole thing looks, just like play”. But they overlook the tremendous amount of hard training which Dillard has put in to achieve his magnificent victories. Far too many athletes fail to appreciate the necessity for that extra little effort which is the margin between success and failure.

Whatever your favourite sport, remember the words of Henry Atkin: “To become a champion to-day it is necessary to train hard, often and, in special sports demanding much power, with really heavy weights.”

Body Culture, Volume 1 Number 2, September 1949