When cross country skiing was established as a sport in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was a
sport heavily dominated by men. Training was something that was done on spare time, but the main
bulk of physical training was due to heavy physical work, from forestry or farming. In Sweden, forest workers were common on the national team well into the 1970s. Cross country skiing was tightly linked to rural areas, and gender coded as male (Sommestad 1992). Especially in Norway, women’s
skiing was not easily accepted (Wigernaes 1967). Female skiers in Scandinavia were depicted very
differently than their male colleagues (Tolvhed 2008). After poor results in international competitions in the early 1950s, the Swedish Ski Federation sought to improve performance of skiers by scientific means. They turned to physiologists at the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics (GCI) in Stockholm. GCI had previously been the center for physical culture and Swedish gymnastics in Sweden, but had shifted towards a more scientific, rational approach to physical education and training (Svensson, 2013, Yttergren 2010). During the 1950s and 1960s, GCI physiologists like Per Olof Åstrand and Bengt Saltin were involved in testing and scientifically advising the national team (both men and women). Did the reception of scientific advice differ among male and female skiers? If so, how and why? Preliminary results suggest that female skiers, lacking the connection to forestry and long tradition in the sport, were more open to new training methods, while their male colleagues followed the tradition of training from predecessors and forestry. Female skiers, by adapting scientific advice more easily than male colleagues, may have functioned as change agents in the sport of cross country skiing. This indicates a strong connection between the (gendered) culture of a certain physical activity and the training conducted.
7th meeting of the Transnational Working Group for the Study of Gender and Sport, 'Gender in Physical Culture', University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden, December 13-14, 2013