Norweigan coach honoured for sportsmanship

    April 12, 2006

    Sara Renner, Beckie Scott

    OSLO, Norway (CP-AP) - Bjoernar Haakensmoen's act of sportsmanship was rewarded Wednesday - with more than five tons of Canadian maple syrup.

    At the Turin Olympics, the Norwegian cross-country ski coach handed Sara Renner a spare ski pole after the Canadian broke one during the Nordic ski sprint relay final. Renner went on to win a silver medal while the Norwegians finished fourth.

    "It was natural for me to do it, and I think anyone should have done it," Haakensmoen told The Associated Press. "I didn't think about it. It was just a reflex ... but the response has been unbelievable."

    After the Olympics, Haakensmoen became famous in Canada, and grateful fans started Project Maple Syrup. Canadians were asked to make donations or bring their own cans of maple syrup to one of 300 participating Bell Canada phone stores.

    The result: 7,400 cans were purchased and sent to Norway, the Canadian embassy in Oslo said in a statement.


    The 5.2 tons of maple syrup was given to Haakensmoen at a ceremony Wednesday.

    "In the eyes of Canadians, we took a silver medal, but Norway has won gold for sportsmanship," Geoff Snow, of Waterford, Ont., wrote in an e-mail to the Oslo newspaper Aftenposten.

    Haakensmoen said he was stunned by the response.

    "When you get this kind of response it is, well, just enormous," said Haakensmoen, who recently stepped down as sports director for the Norwegian skiers.

    Norway and Canada agreed to waive any import duties, which might have made the tons of syrup too expensive for Haakensmoen to accept.

    Maple syrup is little known in Norway, and the 37-year-old Haakensmoen said he recently tasted it for the first time.

    "It's sweet, and a little unusual," he said. "We might have it from time to time, but not five times a day."

    Even the Norwegian ambassador in Ottawa thought it was a great idea to send the pancake topper to his country.

    "It is not a common product in Norway ... perhaps it's the best thing you can send to Norwegians," Tor Naess said.

    Naess received more than 400 e-mails from Canadians expressing their thanks for the ski pole.

    "I am surprised, for a Norwegian it was quite natural to hand over the pole, like we did there," Naess said. "What is surprising is that we have so much positive reaction on the Canadian side."