With eight gold and four silver medals Bjørn Dæhlie counts as one of the most successful cross-country skiers in the history of the Olympic Games. On top of this, the Norwegian collected nine World Championship golds and six wins in the overall World Cup in the 1990s. Dæhlie had and still has close links to Fischer: “I was always welcome and could always talk to everyone on the staff – from the very top to way down. Fischer was really part of my success.”

When did you start cross-country skiing?

My parents told me that they took me along for cross-country skiing when I was three years old. I was given a pair of red wooden skis. My parents didn’t ski all that far, but we were out in the country with our skis the whole day. We often jumped with the skis, too, which is how I got into ski jumping. At the age of ten or twelve I took part in ski jumping contests as well – but with very poor results.

And when did you really start cross-country skiing and racing? When I was twelve or so we often skied to school. We often did cross- country skiing at school, too. And so my friends and I started taking part in contests. Then I began on the Nordic Combined – after all, I was already ski jumping. But I did really badly there, too, which is why I decided at the age of 15 that I would stick to cross-country skiing.

So you started cross-country skiing pretty late?

I was in a club with the well-known cross-country skier Lars Erik Eriksen. When I was 16 I trained with him. He was in the Norwegian team, and I trained really hard with him. I improved fast, but I wasn’t winning. Before my last year as a junior I never managed to win. Then I was 19 and I was – I believe – the youngest Norwegian to take part in the 50-kilometre race in Holmenkollen. A mere 19 years old … I asked people in the Ski Federation whether they will let me start in the 50-kilometre race if I win the junior race by a margin of more than 30 seconds. They agreed to. I won by a margin of 33 seconds and was allowed to start.

So there was a junior race the day before the 50-kilometre race, too? Yes, an international race for the best skiers from all countries. The first race that I won took place a week earlier in Finland. So I won my first race at the age of 19. A year later I was in there with the professionals and had all sorts of problems, of course. I went to Davos in December 1987 and took part in my second race there. Juha Mieto was there too. It was his last race in Davos.

When did you get together with Fischer?

I’ve always used Fischer skis. I remember that Gerhard Thaller had heard about me via Lars Erik Eriksen. I signed my first contract with Fischer through Odd Martinsen of Finor when I was 18.

Were the negotiations tough?

No. I think at that stage I got 8,000 Norwegian kroner and several skis from Ried. But Fischer’s international service team got in touch with me very soon. I was 19 or 20 then. From that point on Gerhard Thaller, and later Franz Gattermann, were responsible for servicing my skis. Gerhard handled the negotiations, too. I recall my first race in Davos. Gerhard told me: “Bjørn, it’s vital that you talk to one of the most important dealers in Europe, Sport Hofmänner. We must go there together.” That was the first time I talked to Andy Hofmänner – in his shop. Fischer was very important for me. The contact between the individual racer and the firm was very close; I think closer than it is today at this personal level. In those days we didn’t have any professional waxing specialists in the national team. As a result we had to talk about how to get the skis ready in much more detail. As I recall, even at top level, in the World Cup, it went as follows: Gerhard did a pair of skis for me in the classic contest. Gerhard got a pair ready for me, did all the waxing, and I did a pair too – that was all the help we got. I did a lot of waxing myself, particularly with klister wax. In those days the best racers were the best at waxing, too; they could do everything themselves.

Isn’t the opposite the case today?

Exactly. Ask the best skiers, and you’ll see … I don’t know how much contact there is between the skiers and Fischer today, but I knew a lot of people, because I was often in Ried and talked to people there. I was in the production area and talked to lots of people there. I also had a good deal of discussion with Gerhard and the development department. I feel we had a very close, special relationship at the time. That changed somewhat around 1992, when people went over more and more to sanding the base of the ski. The national teams took care of that. But I’ve always defined my cross-country skiing in terms of the connection with the material, particularly with the ski. Every spring I set myself new targets for success. My equipment was always very important for that. Even if I skied as fast as I possibly could, or trained endlessly – without the right material I couldn’t win. That made it vital to have the best and most up-to-date ski model, and also to pass feedback to the firm. Together with a few racers, such as Vegard Ulvang, we developed cross-country skis. I believe that that made us important for the people who developed new skis at Fischer at that time.

Who was your idol in cross-country skiing? Did you admire anyone in particular?

The Norwegians, of course. But in the 1980s there were also Gunde Svan and other Swedes such as Torgny Mogren. I really looked up to Gunde Svan, but I never met him; I don’t think he even knew who I was. Not even when I had beaten him in Val di Fiemme at the 1991 World Championship – that was my first World Championship victory: he came second. Maybe he’d heard my name, but no more than that. Thomas Wassberg was another idol for me. He was with Fischer, too. I talked to him a lot, and he always gave me some tips.

Did you have idols in other kinds of sport, too?

I was so focused on winter sports and cross-country skiing. Of course I watched other kinds of sport too, but only cross-country skiing mattered to me.

„I ran a lot, too - that was my main strategy for becoming a better skier. .”


Which style do you prefer today – classic or skating?

In the early years I skied only classic style, of course. When I was 16 or 17 skating came along, and I knew I must do that too, that I must compete in skating as well, no two ways about it. At that stage I simply couldn’t say whether I was faster in skating or classic style. But I did a great deal of training, particularly strength training and simulating movements for skating. In summer I did strength training every other day, partly with roller skis. I ran a lot, too – that was my main strategy for becoming a better skier. And I did plenty of endurance training. I ran a lot, including hill running. I tried to avoid a long gap between the last races in April and the start of the cross-country contests in November. I did a great deal in summer to stay really fit.

 Did you develop your training plan yourself or did someone help you?

I saw what the others did. And we discussed my training plan in the Norwegian team. I was given advice about my weekly or monthly training programme, but otherwise I put all the sessions together week by week. I trained a great deal and really hard. Then, when I was in the Norwegian team training camps, I had the feeling that it was a bit inadequate in comparison with what I was doing at home; so the training there was straightforward for me … For instance, the Russians trained a great deal in their camps. But then they were at home for two weeks or more. They didn’t train at all for a whole week. Then they were in a training camp for a few weeks and trained hard again. So that was quite different from the way I did it.

 What were the highlights of your career?

The Olympic Games at home in Norway. That was awesome. Winning there, with all those people watching, was absolutely fantastic. In 1988 we got the news that we would presumably host the Olympic Games in 1994. Those six years were my best period as a young racer. The development in the Norwegian Ski Federation, everything became more professional. The whole sport underwent a major change. We were able to hold training camps all over the world, we had people to do the waxing and so on. The entire sport became more professional.

 What else do you remember from this period?

The friendship, and the tension at the start of each race. You warmed up, tested the skis, pondered all sorts of things, and I was so nervous. And if I was successful then, of course it was an unbelievable feeling.

 When did you stop racing, and why?

In the summer of 1999 I hurt my back. I was on roller skis, I fell, and realised that it wasn’t going to mend properly. In the winter of 1999/2000 I couldn’t ski cross-country. In the spring of 2000 I finally decided to end my career as a racer.

Was that the worst experience in your career?

I was 32 and naturally I had visions of all sorts of things for my future. I had two children. I never had any problem with training. I trained a great deal, I loved it, and I still enjoy training. But that wasn’t the only thing to live for. So there were several reasons.


„Quite a few contestants took their skis and ran through the woods.”

What has changed in racing apart from the way skis are serviced?

I have a pair of klister skis dating from 1997, which Petter Northug was able to collect an Olympic gold medal on. That’s “my ski” for klister conditions. They’re extremely fast. There have been big changes in skating. These days the skating skis are much better, and so are the classic skis. The equipment has changed in many ways, and the sport has changed, too. I won the first sprint race in Sweden, a World Cup sprint race. Sprint racing originated in the north of Finland and Sweden from the idea of how races could be started or organised. After the World Cup in March and April we held about 20 sprint races in Kuusamo, Kirkenes, Tromsø, Kiruna – and there were masses of spectators. Then I talked to Odd Martinsen, and I also took part in the discussions with the FIS about these changes. I recall a disaster which shows up very well how massive the changes enacted by the FIS were, and that they were unprepared for the consequences these changes would involve in course preparation. It was the first World Cup race, I think in 1989. There was a mass start in Kastelruth. The actual start was on a large field on the Seiser Alm, but after about a kilometre the course led into the wood, where it got much narrower, down to three or four metres. There were more than 120 participants at the start. They were all pretty aggressive. The result was a grim situation. Quite a few contestants took their skis and ran through the wood; of course they were disqualified. But the race was not annulled.

 Have you still got skis at home that you won races on?

Yes, I have. In most cases I shared with Odd Martinsen; he got one ski and I got the other. He has a private ski museum. But that pair of indescribably fast classic skis (see above), that I used only two or three times – I’d love to get them back. I had them for the 10-kilometre race at the World Championship in Trondheim. It’s a mad idea, but I’d very much like to compare them with Petter Northug’s best skis. I’d get a lot of fun out of those skis.

„It took me my entire career to grasp how far 50 kilometers are.”


What were your strengths and weaknesses as a competitive skier?

It took me my entire career to grasp how far 50 kilometres are. I always started off too fiercely in the long races, then I collapsed – that was my weakness. I always pushed myself a bit too hard. My strengths? I was mentally very tough, and I was really good over distances up to ten, fifteen kilometres. When I was in normal form, I knew that I could beat all my competitors or at least get pretty close to them. That was my main strength. When I went through with my daily training I felt strong and had everything under control. I knew what ten kilometres mean – 24 minutes at full power. I’ve done that a hundred times or more. But over 30 or 50 kilometres I had great difficulty in finding the right speed. I felt I had no chance if I hadn’t beaten Vegard Ulvang by kilometre 20 in a 30-kilometre race. I knew he was strong over the last few kilometres – as were some others. But I wasn’t strong at the finish of a long race.

What was Fischer’s image like in those days, and how is it today?

Fischer was already a strong company when I was a competitive skier. Fischer always invited us to talks, Vegard Ulvang and me. We got the very best support from Fischer. I’m still impressed by the company, and still keep pretty close tabs on Fischer. I believe Fischer is now even stronger, and their image is also very good, particularly in cross-country. Fischer helped to develop the sport, too. The equipment is always crucial. Cross-country skiing has always been very important in Norway. What has changed is cross-country as sport for the masses. People know about training now; 20 years ago no one had any idea about it. And people are more knowledgeable about waxing and the structure of the ski. Today wax will be on hand in an ordinary large company in Norway. The employees are allowed time for cross-country skiing, and the company may give them skis. And they read on the web what structures they need. The ski industry has done an incredibly good job as regards developing the sport. As I see it, Fischer is now even more of a force to reckon with in cross-country than they used to be. One reason for that is certainly that not many manufacturers are left. I hope that Fischer carries on in the same style, and that the company continues to develop. I know that in the past Fischer always did that in collusion with the actual racers. I was always welcome, and always had access to all the staff – from the very top to way down. I think it was also a very good thing that Fischer worked together with Gerhard Thaller and Franz Gattermann for so long. There was never much staff turnover, which was a great asset.

Your life has changed a great deal. You now own your own company. What does a typical day look like today?

I still often do training, I love that – not every day, but every other day. And I have various firms, mainly in the property business. I finance buildings, let them or sell real estate in Sweden and Norway. I invest in the apparel business and make other minor investments. I can work as much or as little as I like. I haven’t many co-workers; I’m responsible for more or less everything. The days can be very full and long – but a day isn’t good unless I’ve spent at least an hour jogging outdoors.

So you keep fit with running?

Yes, especially in summer. In winter I’m on skis a lot; I feel that that’s good for me.