Closing ceremony of the Ice Swimming World Championship in Murmansk

This article is part of the series “2019-03: Redex Murmansk”.

I was in Murmansk with Barents Press with a project called Redex 2019. The project goal is to establish contacts between sports journalists and exchange experiences.

Saturday, 16 March

This evening we gather on the Площадь Пять Углов, the Five Corners Square in Murmansk. We want to join the closing ceremony of the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship. The event has started already and we are not alone.

And it’s a big, long show with loud music. And I mean really, really loud! Never ever will I travel to Russia again without ear protection. Right after some children dances the flag parade that was rehearsed some days ago starts. Loud playback music: A male voice sings a very patriotic sounding song. The only words I understand: “Murmansk! Murmansk!”. To this song flag bearers are marching on the elevated walkway and onto the stage. One group in some kind of winter uniform bears the flag of the event, others clad in black uniforms carry the flags of the participating nations. “Murmansk! Murmansk!” The final country is Russia and of course it gets the biggest applause.

 

Now the Russian regions whose swimmers participated were presented, and these are a lot. Russia is divided into 55 oblasts and krais, 22 republics and 8 other regions. Not all of them were involved in this World Championship, but many were.

Alexandr Brylin, the guy who swam with the flags yesterday comes for example from the Amur Oblast which is north of China. Альметьевск/Almetyevsk – the town presented in the photo below – is much nearer, just 2500 km by car. Russia is huge!

Everything is accompanied by music, fireworks and flames. An enormous and perfectly staged spectacle.

After that a singer enters the scene accompanied by girls in metallic dresses. The singer is dancing, acting, jumping and gesticulating all the time and finishes his number with a big jump from the winner’s podium.

Finally the award ceremony starts and with that the swimmers enter the scene. They are welcomed by a speaker that stands near the mixer unit in the darkness of the night. TO be able to read the names he wears a headlight. Many people stand around the fenced area, others stand a bit back in the snow that covers the flowerbeds. One child however seems to be longing for a quieter place. It rests a while on some kind of box before it has loaded its batteries and jumps back to its family.

The rest of the evening? A delicious dinner in the restaurant Terrasa with the other participants of Redex 2019 including translator Anna and journalist Dmitry.

We return to the hotel quite early, because tomorrow we will travel back to Luleå in Sweden and already leave at 6:30 local time, that’s 4:30 Swedish time! The journey back will turn out to be relaxed and without any problems. 15 hours later I’ll be home in Skelleftehamn again.

The lake Semyonovskoye in Murmansk

This article is part of the series “2019-03: Redex Murmansk”.

I was in Murmansk with Barents Press with a project called Redex 2019. The project goal is to establish contacts between sports journalists and exchange experiences.

Saturday, 16 March

While swimmers still compete in 1000 m of ice swimming as part of the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship in Murmansk I leave the spot and start to go back to our Hotel Park Inn. That’s round 5 km to go.

In Summer I would have to go round the lake Семёновское озеро/Lake Semyonovskoye. Now it’s winter and I can simply go across. The ice is at least 50–60 cm thick as the huge ice cuboids along the way show. In the heap of these ice blocks kids were playing. One of them probably will become next generation’s polar explorer.

On the other side of the lake I can spot grey concrete buildings – as cuboid as the ice blocks – and the Russian orthodox church Спас на водах/Saviour on Waters. They have been the background scenery of the championship, too.

And I see people everywhere. The lake is not crowded, but used of many people for different activities. Some of them are sitting on folding stools and doing ice fishing. Others are going for a walk or doing cross country skiing. The nice thing: some of the skiers are quite athletic and fast, others are do not have any technique and are quite slow. But they ski anyway. And all of them seem to enjoy being outside.

These funny “motor-bananas” probably only exist during the ice swimming: The vehicles consist of three parts. In the middle there’s the “chauffeur” standing in a sledge-like plastic tub. At the rear a banana-shaped inflatable rubber thingy is attached on which people can ride. The whole thing is driven by a small caterpillar attached to the front of the plastic tub and operated by the man in the middle.

I start to cross the lake. I pass a snowman and admire his artful face. He looks however too serious to be my namesake Olaf from the film Frozen.

The lake is not so big and soon I reach the other side. Here’s the winter bathing place I already heard of before. I’m angry with myself that I didn’t take swimming trunks and towel with me because the cold water looks inviting. But no swimwear, no bath.

Here I have to leave the Lake Semyonovskoye and I start following the main road Улица Челюскинцев/Ulitsa Chelyuskintsev back to the hotel. Temperature is above zero and the snow is soft, brown and greasy, but it’s easier to walk on that than on blank ice. At the branch Улица Туристов (“Tourists Street”) a woman comes my way. She bears skis with an old-fashioned binding system. I’m sure she wants to go to the place I just left: the Lake Semyonovskoye.

The 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship in Murmansk

This article is part of the series “2019-03: Redex Murmansk”.

I was in Murmansk with Barents Press with a project called Redex 2019. The project goal is to establish contacts between sports journalists and exchange experiences.

The main reason for us to visit Murmansk just this week was the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship and the 1st Ice Swimming Arctic Cup 2019. There were 7 individual distances/styles and 2 relay distances/styles, all from 50 m butterfly to 1000 m (!) freestyle. The event is organised by the IISA and the town of Murmansk. 400 swimmers from 33 countries will participate.

Friday, 15 March

After breakfast we meet Dmitry, a local journalist at the hotel lobby and then take the trolley bus to the ice swimming pool, which is located in the freshwater lake Семёновское озеро/Lake Semyonovskoye, 5 km from the centre. We arrive there to see the opening ceremony at 11:30 but due to the many starts the competitions already have begun in the morning. As usual we have to show our press badge to be able to enter the arena.

I’ve been on several winter swimming championships before: in Joensuu and Rovaniemi in Finland and of course several times in Skellefteå.

The first thing I notice are the many people wearing robust drysuits. There were two for each lane, all secured with ropes, plus additional divers. They belong to EMERCOM,  the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

The next thing are the restrictions for the press. We have got a plan with the marked areas where we are allowed to stand, but even there we sometimes are shooed away because we block the audience’s view. We are not allowed to go too near to the ice. Security first! The area behind the pool was open for a short time and then closed for the rest of the competitions.

When we arrive the 500 m freestyle competition is in full swing. A total of 47 swimmers compete in this distance. Some people are so exhausted after the swimming that they have to be helped out of the water. Some of them are even lad to the hot tub where they are able to warm up, but most people can walk by theirselves.

The opening ceremony starts with a flag parade in groups of three, one for each country: a boy presenting a sign with the name of the country, a cadet holding the country’s flag and a swimmer of that country. Here we meet again Mongolian swimmer Davaadorj Shagdarsuren.

Then a line of women walk along the green walkway. They are clad in white and blue dresses and hold traditional Russian welcome gifts in their hands: bread and salt. They walk around the pool and present these gifts to the guests from all countries that stand there in one line.

Finally the championship is opened by the outstanding Russian ice swimmer Alexandr Brylin who swims 25 meter holding two flags in his hands.

The next hours I take various pictures: Of the two mascots dancing around, of the swimming itself, or of the Chinese people having fun with the Russian women.

I have a lot to watch and I reflect on similarities and differences of this ice swimming event compared to others. While Skellefteå is partly a fun event with short distances and a funny cap competition, this competition is a 100% serious sport competition. On the other side the opening and closing ceremonies (we got a sneak preview two days before) in Murmansk are colossally enormous. Nevertheless the championships in Skellefteå have a larger public, partly because it’s in the middle of the city, partly because in Skellefteå you can compete in 25 m, too and many locals do this.

The scenery has its contrasts, too: snow – cold ice – open water – people with warm clothes – women wearing fur – swimmers in bathing suits – colourful flags everywhere – grey concrete buildings in the distance.

I take the freedom to loosely quote Tim, who helped organising Redex 2019: Russia will always surprise you!

Saturday, 16 March

Today it’s the day of the 1000 m freestyle competitions. To be allowed to participate you have to proof that you are able to cope being in the ice water for at least 25 minutes. Nothing for the average leisure swimmer. We arrive to heat number 2, where among others Ren Feng Wang from China participates. Just before swimming all participants get a medical exam and another after the swim.

The start commando: all others swim crawling while Ren Feng Wang breaststrokes. At the end of the competition he will be slowest of all with a time of 24:05:04. For me this would be worth an extra medal for being able to cope the icy water such a long time.

Winner of heat 4, men is the German Martin Kuchenmeister, a professional ice swimmer with a time of 16:56:94.

In the same heat a swimmer has to give up. He is helped out at the other side of the pool by the people of EMERCOM.

Some more photos:

Again, it’s the contrasts that fascinate me. The competition, the concrete buildings and the white Russian orthodox church Savior on Waters.

When you watch the championship you hardly realise that there is a lot of life on the Lake Semyonovskoye outside of the fenced area. People are walking, skiing or ice fishing and some of them stand outside the fence and watch the championship as well. After a while I leave the temporary arena and walk across the lake to make some non-swimming photos.

At the end of the day there are two winners of the 1000 m run:

For the men: Petar Stoychev from Bulgaria with 12:10:81. For the women: Alisa Fatum from Germany with 13:02:39. Chapeau!

Links

3rd Ice Swimming World Championship in Murmansk – preparations

This article is part of the series “2019-03: Redex Murmansk”.

I was in Murmansk with Barents Press with a project called Redex 2019. The project goal is to establish contacts between sports journalists and exchange experiences.

Thursday, 14 March

Tomorrow, 15 Mars 2019 the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship will start. 400 swimmers from 33 countries will participate in this competition and will swim distances up to 1000 metres. The event is organised by the IISA and the town of Murmansk.

The first contact to this event we got yesterday, 13 March in the swimming bath. We met Davaadorj Shagdarsuren, a professional swimmer from Mongolia and only participator of his country. His traditional clothes were really eye-catching and according to himself much too warm for Murmansk. He’s more used to winter temperatures between -35 °C and -50 °C.

Later we had an appointment with Irina Andreeva, leader of the municipal Sport Committee and member of the organising committee. She gave us interesting details about the ice swimming championship and the organisation.

When we went back we passed the Five Corners Square we heard loud music. There a rehearsal for the closing ceremony was in full swing. Heroic music sounded from the PA system and young people were marching to it with huge flags. Half of them in some kind of winter uniforms and flags with the logos of the IISA, the city of Murmansk and Аспол, the association of polar explorers. The others with the national flags of all participants. A nice gesture to all countries. I have however to admit that such kind of parade looks quite odd from my German-Swedish perspective. I’m not used to marching and parading.

Today at 1 o’clock was the press conference for the championship. It hold place in the hotel Azimut. 13 officials talked a bit about the event and invited the journalists to ask questions. Since there came hardly any question they started to ask each other instead. Quite funny situation.

After that we got our press accreditations. Now I have a press badge and I’m quite curious how freely I’m allowed to move the next two days to take pictures of this event.

Links

A trip to Murmansk with Barents Press

This article is part of the series “2019-03: Redex Murmansk”.

Last year a friend of mine told me he would travel to Murmansk and asked me if I wanted to follow. The friend finally did not have the time, bit I got the opportunity of a Murmansk trip thanks to Barents Press, a journalist network in the Barents Region. I became a member as a photographer this year.

The project called Redex 2019 has a strong focus on sport journalism and sport events in Murmansk. People who know me may know that I do not care about sport competitions. In this case however there’s a large sport event I’m interested in: the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship. I’m very glad that I was invited to travel and my thanks go to Barents Press for the invitation, for taking all the costs and for the great organisation.

Monday 11 March, 7:00. I just finished my breakfast in a hotel in the Comfort Hotel Arctic in Luleå and we are ready to travel to Murmansk. We, that is five journalists, me, and Sergei, our Russian chauffeur. He came from Murmansk with a Mercedes 15 seater minibus the day before. Good to have a bit of comfort, for we will travel about 840 km which will take the whole day.

Off we go. To Finland it’s only 130 km.

And – swoosh, are we in Finland. You hardly realise that you just crossed a border.

There are different ways to Murmansk. We will take the way via Salla. We make a lunch break in Kemijärvi where we got an extraordinary delicious lunch at Mestarin Kievari with a lot of salat and side dishes and even two different desserts.

At 15:30 Finish time (1 hour ahead) we arrive at the Finnish side of the Finnish-Russian border. Sergei has to make some paperwork and we have to wait, then we all show our passports before we enter the bus again to drive to the near Russian border.

The first check is before we exit the bus: A Russian official gets on the bus, counts us and checks our visas. Then we drive to the custom office where we leave the bus and have to fill out a form, that we have to keep with our passport the whole stay in Russia. It takes some time to fill the form, especially since it’s so tiny.

Then we go through the control, one by one. I’m first. There’s a minor problem with my form but Tim who speaks Russian can help. I wait on the other side where there’s a small exhibition of war memorials found at the border. I say one of the few sentences I know in Russian: Можно фотографировать? Yes, I may take pictures.

Then we are i Russia. Another check of the officials, that we are complete and have our stamps on the forms and in the passports. 20 other km and we have travelled half the distance. The Russian roads and landscapes are very similar to the Finish ones. It’s not easy to take landscape photographs from a bus driving on a bumpy road with a lot of windows reflecting the light. I start to doze.

We stop in Алакуртти/Alakurtti to refuel the bus. We have to wait, because the gas station itself is being refuelled and that takes some time. Anyway it feels good to stretch my legs and to get some fresh air.

After half an hour we continue our trip. We make a short stopover at a petrol station in Кандалакша/Kandalaksha, then we drive on.

It starts getting dark and I try to sleep a bit. It’s still 250 km to Murmansk and our trip takes some more hours, but finally we approach the city.

On the sign stands: “Murmansk, Hero City”, an honorary title from the Soviet times for outstanding heroism during WWII.

Just before 22:00 local time (+ 2 hours) i enter room 838 at the Park Inn Hotel, where I’ll stay the next five nights. So the whole ride took almost 13 hours and I’m really tired. But before going to bed we meet at the lobby and go to a restaurant nearby to get a late dinner. (I remember the food was tasty, but I’m not sure because my brain already had turned on the autopilot.)

The whole route: LuleåHaparanda/TornioRovaniemiKemijärviSallaКандалакша/KandalakshaМурманск/Murmansk.

Midsummer impressions 2018

The last night the weather was fantastic, as you can see on the photos. Today the Swedish weather service unfortunately was completely right with its forecast: It rained, rained and it rained at temperatures around 10 °C. Not very comfortable.

Rain however is never an obstacle when it comes to celebrating midsommar – one of Sweden’s most important feast days. Use any clothes you like, but don’t stay home! As you can see a lot of people were celebrating midsummer in Bonnstan, the old Church Town of Skellefteå. And of course the song of the little frogs was sung and danced, this time not only with frogs and pigs (the normal one’s) but with elephants and lions as well.

Some impressions:

Some hours later: Annika and I enjoy our midsummer meal. The rain patters on the plastic roof of the winter garten. The place is dry but has no heating so that the temperature is only 13 °C. Annika has put on a light down jacket, I myself a warm fleece. But it’s so cozy to sit there, enjoying potatoes, salmon, eggs with roe, pickled herring and strawberry cake. Yummy!

 

 

Impressions of the Jokkmokk Winter Market

Day 1 and 2 of the winter journey 2018

The first time I’ve been on the Jokkmokksmarknad – the Jokkmokk Winter Market – was 2005. As many other tourists I strolled over the market looking at the many products, everything between fox furs, Sami handicraft and plastic tools for the everyday life.

Since then I’ve been on the market several times, last time in 2015. And I still enjoy the market. Some random impressions:

But my focus has started to change. More and more I want to talk to all the people on the market. With the old guy from Finland trading with fur products, with the American artist building objects from weaving looms, with the Sami women selling grammar books about “lulesamiska”, with the people selling double-walled sauna tents. So many interesting people, all with their own story.

Another way of storytelling I witnessed at 4 o’clock. Sofia Jannok, a famous Sami singer and songwriter presented her current program, which is very political from a Sami perspective. As a musician however I had a strong focus on the music, which I enjoyed very much even though it wasn’t the music I use to listen to. I asked Sofia after the concert if I may publish a photo and I may:

I could tell more but the laptop battery is almost empty and dinner is served in 15 minutes. Two strong arguments for closing the article. We’ll hear soon …

 

Varning! Isvak!

The river Skellefteälven between Skellefteå and the coast of the Baltic Sea. That particular place is called Stackgrönnan. On warm summer weekends the café is quite crowded. In winter it’s closed.

This sunday however the small snow covered way is crowded, even though it’s mid-January. Many cars are parking, many people are standing around, warmly dressed for winter. Some of them have bags or rucksacks with them.

The Skellefteälven is completely frozen and covered with snow. Snowmobile tracks lead to the opposite riverside. On the river ice there are signs round a cordon.

They say “Varning! Isvak!” – “Warning! ice hole!”. And there is an ice hole indeed, four square meters big. Some people stand around with spearlike tools and remove the last thick ice blocks from the hole.

So that ice hole seems to have a purpose and it has: It’s an ice hole maintained by the association Mörkrets och Kylans Glada Vänner, or in english Happy Friends of Cold and Darkness.

I’ve been member of this association almost from the beginning and had the pleasure, honour (, and work) of being part of the organisation team for the very first Swedish Winter Swim Championship in Skellefteå in 2012. It was the coldest day of the winter with temperatures below -30 °C, but that’s another story …

Back to the plot: All people have come to take a winter bath or at least to cheer to those who do. Annika and I have winter-bathed before but not yet this winter. We aren’t the only one’s who want to take a bath, there are at least 30 others and the changing rooms are stuffed with people, some wearing winter parkas and warm boots, others just their swimwear and a cap. The same outside: Woollen mittens and down jackets on the one side, wet semi-nude bathers with towels on the other side.

And what is in the ice hole? One winter bather after the other. First looking tensed or even shocked, since the water temperature is round 0 °C (and yes, that’s cold!), then relaxed and happy because the body releases endorphins. But have a look by yourself:

After the last bather – most people and cars already have gone – wintry silence starts to set in again. The snow covered tables and benches are still untouched and the fairy lights round the big flag pole are on. Temperature is -11 °C. If you ask me, a perfect winter day.

Appendix one

On 17 February 2018, the Open Scandinavian Championship which is a part of the World Cup will be held in Skellefteå for the seventh time. And you can apply!

Appendix two

Evidence photos of me in the ice hole? Thanks to Annika, who took photos with her mobile they exist. Var så god:

 

Travelling to Tromsø

This article is part of the series “2017-07: Tromsø”.

Sometimes I’m just too lazy to blog and so was I the last weeks. Today however I finally want to write about a great trip to Tromsø, that Annika and I started on 7 July, almost three weeks ago.

Tromsø is in located in the North. Very far north. It lies 344 km north of the polar circle and is the northernmost town of the world with more than 50,000 inhabitants. It has the northernmost university, both the northernmost cathedral and mosque, the northernmost brewery and probably some more northernmost things of the world.

The shortest route by car from Skelleftehamn to Tromsø leads over Luleå, Pajala, Kilpisjärvi (Finland) and Nordkjosbotn (Norway) and that’s the route Annika and I took.  We had a lot of time and planned to stay overnight twice, but didn’t plan where.

The first part of the route, the E4 leading north, is kind of boring. At least you’re allowed to drive 110 km/h – the maximum allowed speed of the whole journey. In Töre we left the E4, took a break and ate in the Restaurang Roady – the first KRAV-certified sidewalk restaurant.

After lunch we continued northwards. After 50 km we reached Holgers Traktor Museum in Svartbyn, which is always worth a visit. Since it was late – we started our trip in the afternoon – we just made a short stop to take a picture and then continued our trip.

Where to stay? Perhaps we could stay with Katharina whom I met last winter. She lives in Miekojärvi between Överkalix and Övertorneå. We tried to ring her, but she didn’t answer the call. Anyway it’s just a detour of 30 kilometres so we just gave it a try. Katharina has round 20 huskies and someone has to feed them. When we arrived at her house, a man left the shed, looked at us and we were quite surprised to meet Sascha whom we met before in Solberget several times. What a lucky coincidence! So we found not only our first overnight stay but great company, too! Thank you, Katharina (abroad) and Sascha for your hospitality!

The next day we continued our tour after a nice and rich breakfast. We crossed the arctic circle and watched the reindeers.

First stop: Pajala, where a big market took place. Here you could buy a lot of things between tradition and modern age.

After two hours we left the hurly-burly and entered the car again. We crossed the Swedish–Finnish border and followed the E8 which was more construction site than main road. We passed Karesuvanto, where I was sure to meet a food store. All stores however are on the Swedish side, in Karesuando. Not a problem, if you have bread with you and then are given butter, cheese and salami as a present on the super-nice camping ground Lätäsenon Majat near Enontekiö, where we stayed overnight.

Next day we passed Kilpisjärvi near the border triangle, where Sweden, Finland, and Norway meet and soon we were in Norway. Norway is my favourite country in summer because the landscape is so varying and beautiful that even I make photos from within the car:

In Skibotn we saw the first fjord – the Lnygen – and made a break. Annika used it for jogging and I for looking around and taking pictures. I love to stand at the shore, the feet in the water, the view either on the shells or on the fjord and the still snow covered mountains. But the seagulls didn’t like me standing there and they flew some feint attacks, luckily in vain. They don’t dare to come really close.

In Nordkjosbotn we ate hamburgers for lunch. It’s not easy to get anything other than burgers and pizza in Northern Norway outside the cities, but sometimes I like fast food, especially when travelling. From Nordkjosbotn it’s only another hour to Tromsø, where we arrived in the afternoon.

Here we would stay for four whole days with … but that’s another story for another blog article. Stay tuned!

 

Visiting the “Vindelälvsdraget”

Yesterday Annika and I went to Vännäsby , 25 km away from Umeå, to view the 30th Vindelälvsdraget which is the world biggest draught dog relay according to the organisers. It started in Ammarnäs in the Swedish mountains on Thursday and ended just in Vännasby on Sunday. That’s a distance of 381 km in three and a half days.

Some of the competitors used a sledge pulled by four to six dogs, but most of them skated on skis and had one or two dogs dragging (more or less). They came along on the frozen river Vindelälven, turned into the river Umeåälven, which they had to leave right after the bridge. Some of the teams managed it perfectly while others had to shout höger! (right) to the dogs several times until they obeyed. The river bank is quite steep and was a real challenge for the discipline of the dogs. One of them just rolled in the snow while the skier tried not to slip and fall, while some others were shortly distracted by the smell of the grilled sausage by the trail. However all teams managed to come up where there were only some 100 metres left to the finishing line.

The speaker at the finishing line was great. His talk was so “adagio”, laid back and completely free of any stress. I really enjoyed his almost zen-like moderation which was the total opposite of the normal sport presenters stressful reporting attitude. My kudos!

Some photos:

Links: Website / Information pdf (both in Swedish)