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Running into history Knarvikmila – The Great Fjord Run

01 July 2012, 7am

The Fjord Norway Half Marathon in Knarvik is one of the great running events in Norway, taking place close to Bergen, “The gateway to the Fjords”.

Small place, big race

by John Flatøy

The Fjord Norway Half Marathon in Knarvik is one of the great running events in Norway, taking place close to Bergen, “The gateway to the Fjords”. The course runs through beautiful fjord scenery, crossing several bridges which afford spectacular views. The 10km and 5km races both finish on the famous Knarvik Games running track. It is a unique running weekend to which the Fjord Norway Half Marathon is a comparatively late addition, as the running festival, holding its 30th edition in 2012, had its roots as a track meet.

The idea to start organizing the Knarvik Games came when the new Knarvik Stadion, a running track with a grass football field, was completed by the local community, Lindås kommune, in September 1980. The track soon became well known for being extremely quick, using a spurtan surface layer. The first competitions, regional, national and international, came up with very good results and personal records. In addition to the fast track, the fresh air coming in from the sea in the afternoons proved to be of great value for the runners.

Helge Brekke, headmaster at the local secondary school, and a close neighbour to Knarvik Stadion, happened to personally know Arne Haukvik, meeting director of the famous Bislett Games. Brekke asked Haukvik to help him get the best international runners for the Knarvik Games, which first took place on 13 September 1981. This was just after the European track season, and Knarvik Games was the first big international run on the list after that. The first edition of the Games was a great challenge and at great economic risk, but it drew world famous athletes like John Walker (New Zealand) starting at 1500m. Steve Cram made an early appearance at Knarvik, running 1:46.2 for 800m. And of course Henry Rono, who broke the world record for 5000m at Knarvik stadion that year.

Less well known is that in the women’s race Paula Fudge also broke the women’s world record for 5000m – this was before women were running 5000m as a championship event. The track has seen four world records altogether.

In spite the lack of facilities for athletes at Knarvik Stadion they very much appreciated the atmosphere of the track. Although there were no seats for the audience to sit on, 9000 showed up (in a town of 4000 people), sitting “like birds on a bird mountain” as described by Norway´s biggest newspaper, VG. The videotape with Rono´s world record run was sent to the BBC but was unfortunately never returned. Runners spoke well of Knarvik Stadion, calling it an “extraordinary fast track for middle and long distance running”. Some of them talked for years afterwards of their positive experience and the atmosphere at the Knarvik Games. The name of Knarvik was suddenly on the international map for running athletes.

In 1983 a team competition was arranged between Great Britain, Benelux and Norway. The meeting incorporated the first 10000m for women, won by Rosa Mota, the inaugural winner of the European Championships Marathon one year previously. Steve Cram also ran one of his best-ever 1500m races. At 1200m he was two seconds ahead of the world record schedule, but a strong wind on the last lap spoilt his chance. The KnarvikMila 10km was held for the first time that year as part of the Games, attracting 700 participants.
Plans for 1984 were more ambitious, to attract the world’s running elite and international television broadcasting, but the local facilities for the tv-companies just couldn´t match their requirements, so the arrangement had to be cancelled.

The KnarvikMila 10km road race continued to grow steadily. In 1991 a 5km event was added, and over 2000 runners took part. With the addition of the Fjord Norway Half Marathon in 2009 another stage was reached, coinciding with the National Geographic naming Fjord Norway as the world’s most celebrated and iconic travel destination. Also that year KnarvikMila joined in an educational charity project for children and teenagers in Ethiopia, cooperating with the local secondary school, the Great Ethiopian Run and UNICEF.

In 2011 close to 15,000 runners from 27 countries and 4 continents were on the starting line of the different races. This makes KnarvikMila one of the greatest athletic and cultural events of its kind in Norway. Among the runners was Haile Gebrselassie, the best long distance runner of all time, who ran the Knarvikmila 10km. After the race he said: “It is fantastic to be here. A fantastic run in fascinating nature. A challenge to professionals as well as to amateurs. A race I will gladly recommend to everybody”. Haile Gebrselassie will be back in 2012, running the 10km for the second time.

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