Sven Wiik poses in front of a portrait featuring all of Steamboat Springs' Olympians at his home in the Blacktail neighborhood. Wiik recalls his experiences at the 1948 London Olympics, where he was part of a demonstration team for gymnastics.
Sven Wiik recalls his experiences at the 1948 London Olympics, where he was part of a demonstration team for gymnastics.
Photo by John F. Russell
Sven Wiik was featured on the cover of this brochure for the Swedish gymnastics team in 1948. Wiik was part of a demonstration team that was showcased at the 1948 London Olympics.
Steamboat Springs Walk into Sven Wiik’s house, and it’s a gateway into skiing’s past.
The first large poster to the left of the entryway features a large illustration commemorating 50 years of the Crested Butte Ski Area with Wiik tearing a line down the famed resort.
A step into the living room and downstairs reveals awards, hall of fame plaques and Olympic memories, all commemorating the 91-year-old's impressive ski resume.
But before Wiik was a ski coach at the 1960 and 1980 Olympics, he got his first five-ring glory in none other than gymnastics. Had it not been for gymnastics, Wiik may have never made his way to the United States.
Wiik was part of a Swedish demonstration team at the 1948 Olympics, the past time the Olympics were in London. It was also the first Olympic games after the end of World War II.
Wiik and teammates helped demonstrate Ling Gymnastics, a practice where gymnasts used free-standing movements in formation.
Wiik said he also competed in demonstration events in the rings, floor exercise, pommel horse and horizontal bar. Although the 1948 games included medals in gymnastics, the Swedish men’s team wasn’t included.
“I was not competing,” Wiik said. “We were a demonstration group from Sweden. But we were there the whole time.”
Like most young children in Sweden, Wiik started doing gymnastics at a young age. He remembers competing in front of large crowds in London, his favorite event being the floor exercise.
“It didn’t matter what event you had to do, you had to do a flip,” he said. “My favorite was doing flips mainly on the floor exercise. We couldn’t do a part of what they are doing now. It’s unbelievable what they do with their bodies.”
After the games, Wiik came to the United States in 1949. He was looking for a job and found himself in Gunnison at Western State College.
He earned a job as a physical education teacher, mainly because of his work in gymnastics.
The previous physical education teacher would read a book while students did whatever they wanted, Wiik said.
With his gymnastics background, Wiik instantly changed that.
“I was so involved in gymnastics I didn’t have much difficulty finding a job,” he said. “When I came to Western State College, (gymnastics) was foreign to them.”
For 20 years, Wiik taught gymnastics at the college and even started classes for children.
While he is best known for his career in ski coaching — which includes an induction into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 1979 and the National Ski Hall of Fame in 1981 — who knows where his life would have turned had it not been for gymnastics.
And in the basement of Wiik's home, along with his Olympic diplomas from the 1960 and 1988 Olympics, sits a diploma from the games in 1948.
“The experience, it was fun,” he said. “It was everything. You got the opportunity to better yourself in your sport.”