The Olympic Winter Games and BC
Tormod Mobraaten, third from the left, with Canadian Olympic Ski Team prior to sailing for Germany to attend the 1936 Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
The first Olympic Winter Games were held in 1924 at Chamonix, France. Canada did not send any cross-country skiers to these games, but did have representation at the following games in 1928. At these early Winter Olympics, there were only two cross country ski events, an 18 km "sprint" and a 50 km race, and Canada's first-ever skiing contingent, two skiers from eastern Canada, entered the 18 km event, finishing 37th and 40th respectively.
In 1932, two skiers from British Columbia qualified for the Canadian Ski Team - Karl Lindaas and Kaare Engstad - both from the Omineca Ski Club in Burns Lake. Unfortunately, naturalization requirements and/or financial obstacles prevented many qualifiers from representing Canada during this period, and only Karre Engstad was able to raise the necessary support to travel to Lake Placid (most of it from the Burns Lake community, who even went so far as to make box lunches for his rail trip to the east). In those days athletes competed in one cross-country event only, and the 50 km was the race that Kaare was entered in. Kaare finished 16th, the best Canadian result in cross-country skiing at the Winter Olympics until Pierre Harvey surpassed it with a 14th place finish in the 30 km in 1988. Kaare's 16th placing in the 50 km, however, remained a Canadian record for 78 years - until 2010. During the Olympics, mild weather combined with a mid-race snow storm to create difficult ski conditions. This resulted in some participants, including the two other Canadian entries, not having recorded finish times.
Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined were involved in the early Olympics, but Alpine was not represented until 1936 when slalom and downhill events for were introduced for both men and women. The Canadian Ski Team that year included eight men, most of whom represented Canada by skiing in a combination of ski disciplines. Tom Mobraaten, skiing for the Vancouver Ski Club, was one of the athletes who qualified for these pre-World War II Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The Canadian Team left Montreal by boat on January 3rd and endured a fairly rough voyage. The Canadian Ski Year Book for 1936 reports that gym attendance had been planned for an hour a day, "but after the first day, only two of the team were at all in regular attendance". After many difficulties, the team finally arrived in Garmisch on January 14th. Tom finished 58th in the 18 km event and 30th in the Nordic Combined. This amazing all-round ski athlete was as accomplished in downhill and slalom as he was in jumping and cross-country skiing and he represented Canada again at the Olympics - in Ski Jumping - twelve years later, after the Second World War. The men's 4X10 cross-country relay was introduced at this Olympics, but Canada did not participate. Although Alpine events for women were introduced in 1936, cross-country events for women would not be introduced for another sixteen years.
The next Olympic Winter Games was held twelve years later (1948) in St. Mortiz, Switzerland. British Columbia was not represented in cross-country skiing, and would be unrepresented again in Oslo, Norway in 1952 , where the first women's cross-country competition was held (20 participants competing in a 10 km event). There were no North Americans entered in the women's event.
In 1956, at Cotia D'Ampezzo, Italy, a 30 km cross-country men's event was introduced and the 18 km event was officially shortened to 15 km. Clarence Servold from Camrose, Alberta finished 19th in this first 15 km race. British Columbia was not represented at these Games. As well as the changes noted above, a 3X5 km women's cross-country relay was offered for the first time. There were no North American entries for that event.
The 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, USA and the 1964 Games in Innsbruck, Austria had Canadian representation, but cross-country skiers from British Columbia did not qualify. The 1964 Cross Country Ski Team did have some representation from our province, however, as the team was coached by former Canadian cross country ski champion, Nillo Itkonen of Vancouver. Canada was not represented in the women's events.
In 1968, at Grenoble, France, two of the three skiers to represent Canada at the Games were from British Columbia. Nils Skulbru of Vancouver finished 52nd in the 50 km, and 56th in the 15 km events. Rolf Petterson, skiing for the Hickory Wing Ski Club in Prince George (now named Caledonia Nordic Ski Club) finished 63rd in the 15 km and 61st in the 30 km events. This was the final Olympics where skiers used totally wooden cross country skis.
The 1972 Winter Olympics were held in Sapporo, Japan Canada sent it's first female cross-country skiers including the twin sisters Sharon and Shirley Firth of Inuvik, NWT. Sharon's 26th placing in the 5 km was the Canadian standard until 2002. There were no skiers representing British Columbia, but the coach of the Canadian Team was Bjorger Petterson of the Yellowhead Ski Club in McBride.
Three skiers represented British Columbia at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. Ed Day and Hans Skinstead from the Hickory Wing Ski Club, and Esther Miller from the Omineca Ski Club. Hans finished 22nd in the 50 km, and 30th in the 30 km events. Ester Miller had a 34th placing in the 5 km. This was the year that Bill Koch of the USA made history by earning an unprecedented silver medal in the 30 km and becoming the first North American to win a medal in cross-country skiing at the Olympics.
For the 1980 Olympics Games at Lake Placid, USA, the Canadian Olympic Association established a potential performance standard (top 16) and the Canadian men's cross country ski team didn't qualify any athletes. The top Canadian skiers at the time were Doug Gudwar (Hickory Wing Club) and Reino Keski-Salmi (Larch Hills Ski Club, Salmon Arm) from British Columbia. These two athletes earned more Canadian Championship medals (they were tied at 22 each) than any other male skier until Pierre Harvey. However they were unable to compete in the Olympics during their ski careers. Canadian representation that year was left to the Technical Delegate Bjorger Petterson, and the Canadian women's team, which included Esther Miller.
Only one Canadian man qualified for the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia - Pierre Harvey of Stoneham, Quebec. Pierre and the three women who qualified produced some of the best results to date. There was no representation from British Columbia. The traditional 5 km and 10 km women's events were expanded to include a 20 km event.
There were no cross-country skiers from British Columbia participating in the Calgary Olympics in 1988. However Bjorger Petterson was Chief of Competition, and our province was well represented by many volunteer officials. For the first time, some of the cross-country events were designated as Free Technique (i.e. skating).
Two athletes from British Columbia qualified for the 1992 Games in Albertville, France - Rhonda DeLong from the Black Jack Cross Country Ski Club in Rossland, and Darren Derochie, who was skiing for the Telemark Cross Country Ski Club in Kelowna. The Assistant Technical Delegate was Bjorger Petterson. Rhonda finished 43rd, 41st and 40th in the 15 km classic, 5 km classic and 10 km free technique events respectively. Rhonda was a member of the women's 4X5 km relay team, which finished 11th. Darren's only individual event was the 50 km free technique, in which he placed 61st. Darren was a member of Men's 4X10 km relay team, also finishing 11th. Pursuit Starts were introduced for the first time.
At the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, Bjorger Petterson officiated as a Technical Delegate for the third time, becoming the first individual in the history of cross-country skiing to earn that distinction. British Columbia was not represented by any athletes.
Dave Wood, from the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club in Prince George attended the 1998 Winter Olympics at Sapporo Japan as a support coach. but British Columbiia was not represented by any athletes.
At the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, USA, Dave Wood was head coach of the Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team. Eric DeNys from the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club and Rob Grey from the Black Jack Cross Country Ski Club were support coaches. Beckie Scott won Canada's first Olympic medal in cross-country skiing.
George Grey (Black Jack Cross Country Ski Club, Rossland) competed for Canada in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy, finishing 11th in the Men's Team Sprint and 26th in the 30 km Pursuit - the best ever results for a cross-country skier from British Columbia. The Head Coach of the Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team was Dave Wood, and support coaches included Eric DeNys, Rob Grey and Graham Maclean (Bulkley Valley Cross Country Ski Club, Smithers).
The 2010 Olympic Winter Games were held in Vancouver, British Columbia. George Grey finished 7th in the Men's Relay (Canadian best ever result), 8th in the 30 km Pursuit, 18th in the 50 km race and 28th in the 15 km race. Dave Wood was Team Leader for the Canadian Team, and Graham Maclean, Rob Grey and Eric DeNys were support coaches. The Chief of Competition, Rob Bernhardt (Squamish Nordic Ski Club) and the key Competition Committee Chiefs are from British Columbia - Denis Brown (Telemark Cross-Country Ski Club), Mark Blayney (Bulkley Valley Cross Country Ski Club), Ian Sibbald (Black Jack Cross Country Ski Club), Nancy Flood (Overlander Ski Club), and Mike Edwards (Squamish Nordic Ski Club).