March 3, 2013 - Vasaloppet in Sweden

While mushers begin the grueling Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Alaska today (a long distance race comprising more than 1,000 miles that takes from 8 to 15 days to travel), today marks the Vasaloppet cross-country ski race in Sweden.

This is the oldest, longest, and biggest cross-country ski race in the world!

Around 15,000 people will ski the 90 kilometers (almost 56 miles) between the village of Salen and the town of Mora. There has been a whole week's worth of races leading up to the big race, and this year a record-breaking 66,000 people are registered to participate in all eight of the races together.

That's a lot of cross-country skiers!

This event got its start in 1922—but it is held in honor of an event that occurred in 1520! In that year a 24-year-old nobleman named Gustav Ericsson Vasa urged the men of Mora to stand with him in opposition to the Danish king, who was called Christian II. Vasa wanted to drive Christian II out of Sweden and have a Swedish king instead.

Christian II should not have been surprised that this young nobleman wanted to throw him out of Sweden. After all, most of the Swedish nobility opposed the king. So Christian II invited them to come to reconciliation dinner—in other words, to some peace talks. And then Christian II surprised his guests by having them all killed!

A massacre isn't very Christian, is it?

The people who were killed included Vasa's parents. And so he ran and hid from the king's soldiers, and tried to drum up support from his fellow countrymen. The men of Mora didn't want to fight against the king, though. So Vasa went on toward the village of Salen.

Then the townspeople heard that Christian II was going to raise taxes again. They changed their mind about Vasa's proposition and decided to fight the king. Two brothers were sent out on skis to chase down Vasa in Salen and bring him back to Mora to lead the revolution.

Long story short, Vasa and his Swedish soldiers were able to defeat the Danish king. Gustav Vasa was crowned the new king! Sweden has been an independent nation ever since.

To celebrate this ski run by King Vasa, people ski the same basic route between the two towns. But the Swedish people are not the only ones who show up to participate in this race. Although the winners of the race for the first three decades were all Swedish, since 1954 there have been Finnish, Norwegian, German, Austrian, and Swiss winners. A few other countries have been represented with one win apiece, including one woman from the U.S. I don't think that there has been a single Danish winner in the entire history of the race!

Also on this date:

National Anthem Day 

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