Steamboat Springs Sven Wiik rose early on Feb. 27 to celebrate his 86th birthday with a long journey that would take him above the Arctic Circle to Rovaniemi, Finland.
Several days after his arrival, Wiik planned to take part in the World Masters Association Cross-Country Skiing Championships. He was among Nordic skiers from 27 nations who gathered in Finland.
Wiik, a former U.S. Olympic coach, competed March 3 through 11 in the 10-kilometer and 5-kilometer cross-country skate races and then planned to switch to classic-style skiing for the 15-kilometer race.
"If I push myself, it would be during the last 200 yards" of a race, Wiik said. "If I'm skiing side by side with a guy I'm supposed to beat, I'll give it all."
Wiik races purely for enjoyment.
"I ski along, sing a song and feel good," he said.
Wiik has a long history of athletic accomplishment. He represented his native Sweden at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, as a gymnast. Gymnastics was included as a demonstration sport that year.
A decade later, he coached the U.S. Cross Country Skiing Team at the World Championships in Lahti, Finland, and then coached the U.S. Olympians at Squaw Valley, Calif., in 1960.
Wiik established the Steamboat Ski Touring Center and, to this day, helps his daughter, Birgitta Lindgren, run the touring center. He remains a gifted instructor.
In Rovaniemi this year, he was competing in the division for skiers ages 85 to 89.
Octogenarian ski racers aren't as rare as one might think. Wiik was set to duel with skiers such as Italy's Lino Tadei, 86, and Lev Litvinov, an 87-year-old veteran from Russia.
"There are two reasons why I compete," he said. "No. 1, it gives me a purpose - a reason to work out and stay in shape. No. 2, it lets me keep in touch with all of the people I've worked with and been good friends with."