Following a short illness, 83-year old Sixten Jernberg passed away while in hospital. The cause of death was cancer related, which he had been battling for nearly one year reports AP.
He was often known during his era as the “King of cross-country skiing”, and for good reason. He seemed forged out of the same hard steel that he plied when working at his first job as a blacksmith. People were amazed by his dogged determination and sheer will power.
The talented competitor spent a lifetime with one ski club, Lima IF, and had a career that saw him win four Olympic gold medals, along with four FIS World Championship medals. In fact, Jernberg took a total of 15 Olympic and World Championship medals during his career. He burst on to the international scene at the 1954 World Championships. In his last Olympic Games – 1964 in Innsbruck – Jernberg won a pair of gold medals.
Born on February 6, 1929, he was perhaps most gifted at long distance events and won the coveted Vasaloppet twice. His vast collection of statistics includes this amazing feat and in addition, between 1952 and 1964, he was in 363 races and won 134 of them.
Admired worldwide for his physical toughness, another Swedish champion from another era, Gunde Svan, is quoted on Jernberg’s Wikipedia page saying, “…it was almost like (Sixten) didn’t like his own body and tried to punish it in a different way.” Jernberg had skied in a competition with a fever and coughed up blood, but still finished a grueling 50km event. He simply personified toughness.
Jernberg was most at home in the forest as both a skier and a lumberjack, and became especially well known to North American ski fans at Squaw Valley in 1960 as they were the first televised Olympic Games in the US, where broadcast rights were sold to the highest bidder, with CBS winning the bid. At the time there were four races for men and two for women, all at the famed McKinney Creek venue.
In an interview with Chummy Broomhall for this tribute, he recalled meeting Jernberg three or four times during and around the 1960 Squaw Valley Games. “He was a good guy, a nice guy who was a very, very good skier,” Broomhall recalled in a telephone interview. “At the end of the Games, Sixten gave me a pair of skis to take home with me to Rumford, which was very nice. I had them with me while I stopped at the Post Office to drop off some mail, and left them outside. When I came back they were gone – somebody stole them. I always regret losing those skis, they were very special,” said Broomhall, who served as Chief of Competition for both cross-country and biathlon at those Games.
About a month prior to Jernberg’s passing another legendary Swedish man of iron, the famed “Mora Nisse”, Nils Karlsson, also passed away. Karlsson won Olympic gold in the 50km at the 1948 Winter Games and won the Vasaloppet nine times in his career.
Combined, both men had a huge magnetic effect that helped the sport grow and prosper and become what it is today. They will be sorely missed and never forgotten.