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Ruud, Birger

Birger Ruud

1911-1998

Norwegian ski jumper

In Norway, Birger Ruud is a national hero. He was not only a champion ski jumper; he was also a fierce patriot. He won two Olympic gold medals and one silver. In world championships, he won three gold medals and one silver. During World War II he joined the Resistance and used his skiing skills to subvert the Nazis who had invaded his country. His skill was the result of a combination of inborn athletic ability and the terrain of his homeland.

A Family of Ski Jumpers

Ruud was born on August 23, 1911, in Kongsberg, Norway. Kongsberg is a mining town situated southwest of Oslo. Ruud and his brothers Sigmund and Asbjorn grew up skiing and jumping and participating in all manner of winter sports. Something in their upbringing contributed to producing three of Norway's best ski jumpers. Sigmund and Asbjorn won many titles of their own. Of the three, Birger would make the biggest mark in the world of international competition.

In 1931 Ruud won the first of three World Championships. That year he also set the world record in ski jumping when he registered a 76.5-meter jump in Odnesbakken, Norway. His gold at the World Championships

set the stage for his performance at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics. He surpassed the distances of his countryman, Hans Beck, and was awarded the gold medal.

After the Olympics, Ruud continued his winning streak. In 1934, while practicing jumps after competition in Planica, Slovenia, he became the first man to jump 92 meters. He also won first place in the ski jump at the Holmenkollen competition, the premier Norwegian skiing competition. In 1935, he won his second gold medal in the World Championships.

At the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics, held in 1936, Ruud competed in both the Nordic and the Alpine events, an unusual choice. Most skiers at that time specialized in one or the other, rarely attempting both. His attempt was successful though. The Alpine events combined downhill and slalom and Ruud placed first in the downhill. He would have placed first in the slalom and won the event but he missed a gate and was penalized 4.4 seconds. The penalty moved Ruud from first place to fourth. Despite not placing in the Alpine events, Ruud was able to defend his medal in the ski jump.

Ruud continued to compete internationally, and in 1937 won his third gold medal in the World Championships. Norway recognized his accomplishments by awarding him the Holmenkollen Medal, the highest possible award given by Norway to skiers. In 1938, he traveled to southern California to compete in the First Annual Southern California Open Ski Jump Meet. It was the first ever such meet held on man-made snow in southern California.

The War Intervenes

In 1940, the war came to Norway. Despite repeated promises not to occupy Norway, the Germans invaded in April. Ruud opposed the occupation, as did much of the populace. One of his methods of protesting was to hold unsanctioned ski events to raise money for the resistance. For his part in these ski events, Ruud was arrested in 1943 and placed in the Grini concentration camp. After his release in 1944, Ruud began to work for the resistance. The British would drop artillery and other supplies in the mountains and countryside. Ruud would use his skill and strength as a skier to locate the dropped items.

One of the consequences of World War II was the cancellation of both the 1940 and the 1944 Olympics. Sports scholars and fans alike wonder what other awards could have come to Ruud had he had the opportunity to compete in those games. Fortunately, Ruud was able to prove his abilities one more time in the 1948 St. Moritz Olympics. By this time he was thirty-six years old, which was considered too old to compete. He went to the games as the ski jump coach, but ended up competing in the event and winning a silver medal for his effort.

Chronology

1911 Born August 23 in Kongsberg, Norway
1932 Competes in Lake Placid Olympics
1936 Competes in both Alpine and Nordic events in Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics
1938 Competes in First Annual Southern California Open Ski Jump Meet
1940 Germany occupies Norway
1943 Stages illegal ski competitions; arrested and sent to Grini concentration camp for 18 months
1944 Joins Resistance
1948 Attends St. Moritz Olympics as coach
1986 Kongsberg Ski Museum that Ruud helped establish opens
1994 Carries Olympic flag at Lillehammer Olympics
1998 Dies on June 13

After Ruud retired from Olympic competition, he spent the rest of his life promoting skiing to the youth of Norway. He was also partially responsible for establishing the Kongsberg Ski Museum. His achievements are recognized throughout Norway, where he is considered by some to be the Jesse Owens of ski jumping. Although his name is not common outside skiing circles or in the United States, he is a national hero to the Norwegians. His commitment and achievements in the ski jump brought notoriety to his country. His patriotism in the face of German occupation earned him the respect of his countrymen.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Periodicals

Bisher, Furman. "The Winter Olympics Lillehammer, Norway, the Games: Norwegian Ruud was durable, patriotic." Atlanta Constitution (February 26, 1994).

"Norway Names Best Ten Athletes of the Century." Xinhau News Agency (January 16, 1999).

Rogers, Thomas, and Janet Nelson. "Scouting: Honoring Ruud." New York Times (April 6, 1985): 16.

"Ski: Norwegian Ski Jump Legend Dies." AAP News-feed (June 13, 1998).

Other

Alpenglow Ski History. http://www.alpenglow.org/ski-history/notes/news/news-patrol-race.html (January 31, 2003)

"Birger Ruud." International Olympic Committee. http://www.olympic.org/uk/athletes/heroes/bio_uk.asp?heros=73289 (January 23, 2003).

International Olympic Committee. http://www.olympic.org/uk/games/past/facts_uk.asp?OLGT=2=1936 (January 18, 2003).

"A Little English." Trolldalen Times http://www.azstarnet.com/public/nonprofit/trollda/nlse (January 23, 2003).

"Pac Rim Presents Ski History of California." Pacific Rim Alliance. http://www.pacificrimalliance.org/F.PublicAffairs/SkiHistory/TimelineSoCal.html (January 18, 2003).

Sun Valley Guide: Winter 2001. http://www.sunvalleyguide.com/w01/w01locallore.htm (January 31, 2003).

Sketch by Eve M. B. Hermann

Awards and Accomplishments

1931 Breaks ski jumping record with 76.5-meter jump in Odnesbakken, Norway; triple world champion
1932 Gold medal in ski jumping at Lake Placid Olympics
1934 First place in ski jump at Holmenkollen competition; breaks his own ski jumping record with 92 meter jump in Planica, Slovenia
1935 Triple world champion
1936 Gold medal in ski jumping at Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics
1937 Awarded Holmenkollen Medal; triple world champion
1948 Silver medal in ski jumping at St. Moritz Olympics
1985 Inducted into Rolex International Ski Racing Hall of Fame
1999 Named one of Norway's ten best athletes of 20th century

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