Once every 4 years, the world comes together for an apolitical celebration of good will and athletic competition. The Winter Olympics entertain and distract us from Super Bowl Sunday through the dregs of February. By closing ceremonies, we are but days away from March Madness, and average daily temperatures near 35F. You can find grown men in coveralls talking to little old ladies about “the Double Lutz” and a “switch nose butter triple cork 1600 double Jeanie” in line at Sentry.
We love the back stories, like how snowboarder Justin Reiter lived out of his Toyota Tundra for a shot at the dream. We fight tears as, after fighting to retain his gold medal in freestyle moguls, Alex Bilodeau embraces his brother and dedicates the victory to him. "How can I have a bad day? If I’m tired, or it’s cold, I take one look at my brother who has cerebral palsy, and go to work."
Advances in nutrition, training and technology push athletes where they have never gone before. As if we were slopeside, we watch images delivered to our TVs from half a world away, generated by digital cameras mounted on drones, hovering above the mountain.
Be as it may, three of the world’s so-called “Superpowers” are being taken to task by a country that covers an area slightly bigger than Wisconsin and Illinois combined.
At press time, Norway is in third place with 14 overall medals. Impressive by any count, until you take into account that the “Land of the Midnight Sun” is the second least populous country in all of Europe. Four times more people live in Chicago and suburbs than in all of Norway. If we are to consider medals per capita, then USA and Germany have brought home one piece of hardware for every 19 million residents. Two-thirds of the way through the games, Norway has already medaled three times for every million Vikings. In the Trondelag region, 8th graders who have yet to win an Olympic medal are made to sit in the back of their classrooms.
I could not be less surprised.
This is not based on the fact that Norwegians are the only people I know who raise tobacco that has to be planted, trimmed, picked and stripped …by hand. Nor is it because they gather in church dining halls to celebrate cod soaked in lye.
Oslo rests at the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska, and the only thing - other than really long words with precious few vowels - they are famous for is Fjords. It is safe to assume that a young Norseman in search of romance is going to have to ski, skate or climb a mountain any direction he goes. Six months of the year, he’ll be doing it in the dark.
With the above points being valid and true within the limits of artistic license, I stand solid in my prediction of Norwegian supremacy in the 2014 Winter Olympics, based on Jim Skaar.
In 1864, the Civil War raged. So consumptive was the effort, that there was a shortage of able-bodied farm hands to raise cattle and grain desperately needed by the country and troops. Delegations were sent to Northern Europe. Norwegians were known to be drawn to farm work and regarded of the highest integrity, industrious and sober. Wisconsin land owners gladly paid $25 to bring Norsemen to Quebec by boat. Trains would complete the passage to Chicago and Milwaukee, where they were hired on the spot. From there the trail goes cold. Somehow they got to Stoughton, and haven’t left yet.
It would be another 128 years before I graduated from veterinary school, by which time Jim Skaar farmed half of eastern Dane County. As advertised, he was of strong mind and stronger body, and he hadn’t missed a day of work since he stepped off the train. Sobriety, not guaranteed.
If Norwegians ski and skate anything like Jim Skaar farms, the rest of the world is playing for pride. When it comes to tenacity, the “The Screamin’ Norwegian” makes a Bulldog look like a Peekapoo.
Nola called to have me look at a cow that had recently freshened. As I approached from the east, I could not help but notice an International sitting motionless in the middle of a field. Early in the spring when farmers are looking to clean the cow yards, behind it was a spreader, mounded high and buried to the axle. The frost recently out of the corn stubble, the IH sat spinning helplessly on the grease. Logic might suggest throwing the PTO, dumping a few tons of manure, and driving right out. But leaving a full load of manure in one spot, to be spread once the field was dry, well before planting - Jim Skaar would have nothing of the sort.
He marched a straight line back to the shed, only to return with the heaviest log chain and the biggest piece of equipment on the farm. Lost on a Norwegian in full rage was that, while a Dressen rubber-tired end loader is perfectly suited to load feed, it is as useless as a Toyota Prius for pulling a tractor and spreader out of the mud.
Not to be deterred, in minutes Jim had the end loader hooked to the tractor. Gently pulling slack from the chain, he throttled up. Nothing, not an inch.
As all four wheels started to spin, he dug a hole of his own. Like a beagle on fresh tracks, bound and determined, he backed up. Some of my Dad’s more succinct words of wisdom echoed through my head: “If I EVER see you yank on a chain tryin’ to pull somebody out, I’ll kick your butt ’til your nose bleeds.”
With ten feet of a 75lb log chain lying in the mud, he buried the throttle and let fly.
The chain came taut and snapped. The free end flew through the back window so fast the glass broke in the shape of the chain links flying through it. Before coming to rest around Jim’s feet, it grazed the hat on his head and shattered the defrost fan mounted in the upper corner of the windshield. Thankfully this Norseman was blessed with more tenacity than height.
Having finished our cow work, Brian and I stood by the tailgate of my truck. I looked and started to ask, “He wouldn’t…", but by then Brian was flyin’ across the field.
Unfazed by near decapitation, he straightened his Red Man hat, flew through the door and over the catwalk. He had a double square knot tied in the chain and was back on the throttle when Brian jumped into the bucket screamin’, wavin’ and gasping for breath.
“Good God, you dumb old man, I don’t have time to scrub your brains out of this rig before I feed cows tonight.”
Days short of his 75th birthday, I pulled on to Skaardal farm. From the machine shop to the calf barn was nothing but elbows and backsides and perpetual motion. A posse of high school farm boys drafted Jim. He’d pause to bark another order and all three would collapse on the nearest hay bale or tailgate.
As I scrubbed my boots and stowed my gear, I asked his wife Nola about the commotion.
“Oh Doc, Jimmy’s getting his other knee replaced tomorrow,” she explained. “Nothin’ doin’ but he’s gotta get everything done… and NOW.”