Golden double for cross country legend Jernberg

Picture by IOC / United Archives

Swedish cross country skiing legend Sixten Jernberg turned 35 during his third Olympic Winter Games appearance at Innsbruck 1964, by which time he had already collected six medals. Stepping on to the podium at every event at Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956, he won gold in the 50km, silvers in the 15km and 30km, and bronze in the 4x10km relay, and then added 30km gold and 15km silver four years later in Squaw Valley.

In the meantime, the venerable Swede took the world 50km and 4x10km relay titles at Zakopane in 1962, swelling his world championship medal tally since 1954 to six in all, including four golds.

The outstanding long-distance specialist of his era, the former lumberjack and blacksmith from the central western region of Sweden would sparkle once more at Innsbruck 1964, where he began his latest medal quest in the 30km, an event in which he had to settle for fifth. Jernberg fared better in the next day’s 15km event. Starting 22nd, he held the lead for much of the race but had to settle for bronze after seeing Finland’s Eero Mäntyranta and Norway’s Harald Grönningen duck under his time.

Buoyed by a seventh Olympic medal, Jernberg went for an eighth in his favoured 50km, an event that had brought him gold eight years earlier and which took place on the eve of his 35th birthday. Making a measured start, he slipped fully 54 seconds behind race-leader Kalevi Hämäläinen of Finland at the halfway mark.

The man behind Sweden’s distinctive all-white uniform, Jernberg then stepped it up, cutting the gap on Hämäläinen to just 20 seconds with 15km remaining. While the Finn dropped off the pace completely to come in 16th, Jernberg powered on to stop the clock at 2:43:52.6, finishing over a minute clear of fellow countryman Assar Rönnlund and nearly two minutes ahead of Finland’s Arto Tiainen to add another gold to his tally.

Three days later the Swede won his fourth and final Olympic gold medal and his ninth medal overall in the 4x10km relay. Skiing the second leg for Sweden, he and team-mates Karl-Ake Asph and Janne Stefansson looked on as anchorman Rönnlund surged from fourth to first, beating Finland’s Eero Mäntyranta to the line by eight seconds.

Calling time on his career after Innsbruck, Jernberg was awarded the Mohammed Taher Trophy by the IOC the following year for his contribution to Nordic skiing. His then record haul of nine Olympic Winter Games medals would not be bettered for another 28 years.