Endurance man Ellefsæter prevails over 50km

There are few more arduous events than the 50km cross-country skiing. It is winter sport's equivalent of the marathon race in the Olympics Games – a test of fitness, endurance and character that demands utter commitment for more than two hours. And, just like the marathon, it often produces champions whose stories encompass more than just sporting greatness.

Picture by IOC

One of the great characters of these Games was Norway’s Ole Ellefsæter. He was clearly an outstanding skier, but was also an exceptionally good track athlete. Ellefsæter had been Norwegian steeplechase champion six years in a row and represented his country in international athletic competition.

He was also a man of the woods. Ellefsæter worked as both a lumberjack and as a forestry technician. His training routine involved a lot of skiing in the forests around his home.

His achievements didn't finish there, though. Ellefsæter even released two hit records, including one whose lyrics were a celebration of the 1968 Games. There were also two LPs, one released the year before the Grenoble Olympics – and the other the year after.

As for his accomplishments as an athlete – he was a truly great skier. Ellefsæter managed 8th in the 50km race in the 1964 Games, but came to Grenoble at the peak of his powers. He had won the 1967 Norwegian Championship and also that year's international races in Holmenkollen and Lahti.

His first gold medal came in the relay race, in which Ellefsæter skied the anchor leg. Three days later, though, came his greatest challenge – the solo race across 50km.

Conditions were fast but difficult, with a bitter cold having affected the nature of course during the night. After 15km another Norwegian, Reidar Hjermstad, was leading by 21 seconds from Ellefsæter but over the next 10km Ellefsæter took over at the front. It was a lead he was never to relinquish, despite the efforts of the Soviet Union's Vyacheslav Vedenin, who finished second some 17 seconds behind. Only 52 seconds separated first from sixth, and Ellefsæter's time set a new record that was to last for more than a decade.

Ellefsæter competed in the 1972 Games in Sapporo, finishing tenth in defence of his 50km title. At the age of 33, he retired from skiing.