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King Svan and his message

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Few names are more closely associated with the history of cross-country skiing than that of Gunde Svan. The Swede was known for his dedication and could push himself like no other. In 1984, at the age of 22, he became the youngest Olympic champion over 15 kilometres in the classic technique in Sarajevo; a record that still stands today. Even back then, Svan was already tinkering with details, such as lighter tips for his poles to save four grams of weight.

In addition to two Olympic relay gold medals, victory over 50 kilometres in Calgary in 1988, seven world championship titles and five triumphs in the overall World Cup, cross-country skiing king Svan is remembered above all for helping the skating technique to make its breakthrough.

At the 1985 Nordic World Ski Championships in Seefeld (Austria), most athletes were already using the half-skating stride, a development that had caused fierce debate. Svan – wanting to perfect this technique – only used one pole in training, but one that was significantly longer. "It was a message to the FIS, which didn't make any decisions regarding the technique at the time," Svan said in an interview much later.

The new technique was unstoppable. From the 1985/86 season, FIS introduced cross-country skiing competitions in both classic style and free technique, an approach that hasn’t changed ever since. Svan himself reaped the rewards of his efforts and won the 50 kilometre skating event at the 1989 World Championships in Lahti, Finland – another laurel in the crown of the cross-country king.