Steamboat Springs resident Sven Wiik, 87, returned last week from the 2008 Masters World Cup cross-country ski championships, where he captured a pair of silver medals.
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Sven Wiik insists his primary interests in the 2008 Masters World Cup cross-country ski championships were camaraderie and good health. And that's probably 90 percent of it. But the remaining 10 percent or so is reserved for a rivalry with an 88-year-old Russian speed demon named Lev Litvinov.
Wiik, 87, and a native of Sweden, returned last week from the ski races in McCall, Idaho, where he captured a pair of silver medals in the 5- and 10-kilometer classic style races for men ages 85 to 99. Litvinov dominated the two races, and Wiik is already training for next year's competition in the French Alps outside Grenoble.
"He did an unbelievable job," Wiik said of Litvinov. "He beat me bad. He was fantastic, there's no question about it. I skied classic this year. Next year, I'm going to enter the skate (skiing) races."
Wiik has been competing at World Masters for almost 28 years, since before he became a senior citizen. And he has a chest full of medals, many of them gold, to show for it. But it isn't the hardware that keeps him going.
"I do it to stay active and for my health," Wiik said. "It gives me a reason to get out there and ski. And I look forward to visiting with friends I've had for 30 years."
Wiik and his family traveled to Finland in 2007 to take part in World Masters. However, he no sooner got off the plane than he became bed-ridden with flu-like symptoms. Still, he managed to enjoy the fellowship of the Nordic community.
Every time he goes to World Masters, Wiik can count on meeting up not only with old rivals but with athletes he once coached, first at Western State College in Gunnison and also as U.S. Olympic coach at the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, Calif.
Wiik wasn't the only Steamboat Springs skier to take part in the Masters World Cup from March 1 to 7. His daughter, Birgitta Lindgren, a former college racer, skied in the event. Also racing from Steamboat were Antonio Marxuach and Jenette Settle.
The event drew 1,223 athletes from 23 nations this year, and the level of competition is getting stiffer, particularly among racers in their 50s and 60s, Lindgren said.
To be thorough, I should report that the field of skiers in the 85 to 99 age group is smaller, and as Wiik points out, it isn't getting any larger.
In the Class M12 10-kilometer class race March 4, there were six entrants, and one did not step up to the starting line. In addition to Litvinov and Wiik, there were Canada's Rolland Michaud, who finished third followed by Phil Puchner of the U.S. and Lino Tadei of Italy. Litvinov stunned racers of all ages by finishing in 50 minutes and 40 seconds. Wiik skied the equivalent of 6.2 miles in one hour, 21 minutes and 36 seconds.
What advice does Wiik have for young athletes in their 60s who want to follow along in his ski tracks? Basically, go have fun.
"Cross-country skiing is a sport (where you can) achieve almost total fitness," he said. "But if you can't enjoy what you're doing, you can't succeed."
When the snow melts this spring, Wiik, a former Olympic gymnast for Sweden, will pursue a fitness regimen that includes Nordic walking - hiking while using adapted ski poles to propel him along the trail. He won't be counting the kilometers as they roll by, he'll just continue to enjoy life.
"I don't keep a schedule," he said. "I've passed that."
Words of wisdom from a skier who is always looking ahead to the next finish line.