28 SEP 2004 General News Stockholm, Sweden

Lidingöloppet – the longest and the largest cross country race in the world

Finishers in the unique “Lidingöloppet” (Hasse Sjögren)Finishers in the unique “Lidingöloppet” (Hasse Sjögren) © Copyright

Thirty kilometres of crosscountry!?

Yes, that is correct – that is the unique “Lidingöloppet”! And it is not just the longest cross-country running race in the world – it is also the largest cross-country event which for the last quarter of a century annually has attracted some 25,000 runners.

It all began in 1965 (thus preceding the worldwide “jogging craze” by about a decade) when legendary Swedish athletics journalist Sven Lindhagen wrote in “Idrottsbladet” that Sweden ought to have a running counterpart to the highly popular “Vasaloppet” long distance cross-country skiing event held every winter since the 1920’s.

The article was read by Sven Gärderud (the father of Anders Gärderud who became Olympic steeplechase champion in 1976) who immediately thought that his hometown Lidingö – an island suburb of Stockholm – would be perfect for such a race. Within just a few days he had researched a 30km course on trails and small roads through the Lidingö woods and parks and in early October 1965 the first race was held attracting some 600 bold pioneers.

Fit and healthy in 2004

When “Lidingöloppet” last weekend (25 / 26 September) celebrated its 40th edition, there was no sign whatsoever of a “middle age crisis”. Approximately 27,000 entries created two and a half days filled with runners from age 7 and upwards that enjoyed the pathways in the Lidingö woods and the pleasant autumn weather. Almost 50% took on the main challenge, the demanding 30 km course which has a legendary “Heartbreak Hill” of its own with 5 km to go.

“Abborrbacken” (“Perch Hill”) has over the years meant disaster for many a runner. Among those forced to realise, having wasted too much energy earlier in the race, was former Boston Marathon winner Lameck Aguta who needed some five minutes to cover the 500 metres finishing straight at the Grönsta meadow.

Wakiihuri, Waitz and Loroupe are famous past winners

However, many of Aguta’s fellow countrymen have successfully mastered the course. Beginning with Douglas Wakiihuri in 1989 there has been a Kenyan No 1 no less than twelve times. But last year the trend was broken when Mustafa Mohamed became the first Swedish winner since 1978 after a masterfully planned race where he during the last 10K came from a minute behind.

A month ago Mustafa Mohamed boosted his confidence further by reaching the Olympic steeplechase final and his second straight victory at Lidingöloppet never was in doubt. This time he made his definitive breakaway from the leading group at the very top of the dreaded “Perch Hill” and no one was capable of following him.

While the Kenyan grip on the men’s race has been – temporarily? – lost it seems to be strengthening for the women. Although Tegla Loroupe won twice in the early 90’s it didn’t start an immediate trend like that for the men. But the last three winners have all been Kenyan.

This year Nancy Kiprop – World Junior XC bronze medallist in 1995 now on the comeback trail – dominated the 10K race from the start winning by half a minute from Susanne Wigene. The Norwegian steeplechase record holder (9:45) thus didn’t quite manage to follow in the winning footsteps of fellow countrywoman and running legend Grete Waitz who registered no less than twelve wins during the 70’s and 80’s.

With this year’s number of approximately 23,000 finishing runners the grand total of way over half a million runners have competed in the first forty editions of the race covering an accumulated distance of almost 10 million kilometres!!

That is “Lidingöloppet”!