Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear sporting friends,
It is a great honour and a pleasure for me to be here at Mora Church this evening to open the 87th Vasaloppet cross-country ski race.
This is one of Sweden's biggest annual sports events. The competition draws people of all ages from around 40 different countries worldwide. It is a true national festival.
There are three characteristics which are common to each of the more than 60,000 participants in Vasaloppet week: determination, willpower and passion.
This year in particular, with such a late winter, determination, willpower and passion have been essential. Many participants have travelled a long way to train on snow, and many have been forced to train in other ways.
Each year, the Vasaloppet race attracts a large number of people here to the beautiful Dalarna region. Looking after all these people requires a great deal of skilled organisation. And the Vasaloppet staff and the thousands of officials also feature determination, willpower and passion. A tremendous amount of hard work goes on behind the scenes of the Vasaloppet race. This is something people might not think about when watching the competition here or at home from the comfort of their sofas.
I know that many families in the municipalities of Malung-Sälen, Älvdalen and Mora give up their spring holiday every year to serve blueberry soup at the checkpoints, sort through overalls at the football pitch in Mora Park, organise showers at the tennis centre and hand out certificates at Stranden School.
The first Vasaloppet race was held in 1922, making this a true tradition and an event that has put Sweden on the world map. Obviously, this is something that we and you should be extremely proud of.
The Vasaloppet race is a competition that has always been close to my heart. I have always tried to watch the race on TV. This began when I was young, with the whole family sitting in front of the TV. Even in my adult years, I have always watched the Vasaloppet race.
This is the third time I have been here in connection with the Vasaloppet race. The first time was in 1998, when I came here to cheer on my father who was taking part.
The second time was in 2004, when I took part in the Öppet Spår event myself. And this year I have been fortunate enough to both declare the race open and take part in the SkejtVasan event.
Taking part in the Öppet Spår event in 2004 was a big event for me. Since then it has been my ambition every year to take part in the Vasaloppet race again, and this year I finally had the opportunity to do so.
Of course, the Vasaloppet race is 90 km long, but I still thought it was a fantastic experience — not least because of all the cheering crowds, particularly on the approach to Mora! The interaction between the skiers and the spectators was fantastic.
I felt invigorated at that point, and that I could have gone even further.
This is a feeling that many of us have experienced!
And it's a feeling that many competitors want to return to.
I have told friends that it was this support that helped me reach the finishing line. At that moment, I felt as if I could have completed another Vasaloppet. Of course, that's going a bit far, but it's how I really felt.
Because of the late winter, many competitors have been forced to train in other ways than on snow.
The issue of artificial snow is a serious one, which in the long term may prove crucial to both the Vasaloppet race and all other winter sports. I'm thinking here about the threat of a warmer climate affecting the natural environment.
I believe we are all aware of what is at stake if we don't economise on our use of the Earth's resources.
I am delighted that the organisers of the Vasaloppet race prioritise both individual athletic feats and helping to protect the environment and ensure sustainable development.
I really enjoy coming here for many reasons, and I would also like to take the opportunity to congratulate Dalarna and Mora on being the only destination in Sweden to be included in the New York Times' recent list of places to go in 2012.
I would like to conclude by congratulating the organisers of the Vasaloppet race on another successful week, and would particularly like to wish all the skiers good luck on Sunday. And remember: success requires determination, willpower and passion.
I hereby declare the 2012 Vasaloppet race open!