World’s Biggest Inside Joke

Frank Vereline, Staff Writer

For decades now, Norway has held the coveted title for most medals won at the Olympic Winter games, and every time the games come around, the Norwegians furiously try to keep the title by putting their athletes in almost every event. Norway’s athletes are proficient in almost every sport at the games and their legendary ski team stands at the top. Skiing has been a core part of Norwegian culture for centuries, and it’s used in everyday life, from transportation to athletics, but on March 16, 1951, a man was born who would change the world of Norwegian skiing forever.

Oddvar Bra had been a skier his entire life. He trained day in and day out, and eventually he reached his lifelong dream to become an Olympic athlete. After making a name for himself in the 1981 Olympics, Bra and his team returned as the reigning champions at the 1982 World Championships, ready to win the 4X10 cross country relay. Bra entered the final leg in second place, trailing behind the Soviet skier Alexander Savyalov. In a desperate attempt to take first, Bra decided to make his move. As he passed Savyalov the two skiers clashed, which caused disaster to strike; Bra’s pole snapped in half during his run in with the Russian. For the next few moments, it seemed that is was all over for Bra as he teetered, trying to keep his balance with one pole. The crowd screamed, the announcers yelled to “Get that man a pole!” and Bra had a look of anguish on his face. Eventually a young Norwegian spectator ran up to Bra and tossed him a extra pole. This exchange of poles mid race between an athlete and a spectator may seem illegal, but surprisingly it is a viable move. The race went on as normal, with Bra winning the gold, but that’s not what the people of  Norway remember.

Today, Bra is immortalized not as a gold medal winner, but as a nation wide  joke. People all across Norway now ask each other, “Hvor var du da Oddvar Brå brakk staven?” which translates to “Where were you when Oddvar Bra broke his pole?” This single question has followed Bra since that fateful race. In an interview with The New York Times, Bra claimed the famous question is asked up to ten times a day. Although the question is asked day in and day out, Bra seems to be in good spirits. He seemed to enjoy the many harmless jokes the people of Norway play on him, which included the snapping of the right ski pole on a statue dedicated to him (along with the onslaught of questions). Bra now lives a normal life in Oslo, his decades old feud with Savyalov is over and they are now close friends, and he now teaches his skiing skills to Norway’s younger generations.


* photo via Google Images under the Creative Commons license