Every year, the challenge is the same – thousands apply, but only a select few will see their dream fulfilled, while the rest will only know disappointment.
This year we broadcast the draw live on YouTube and I had the honour of anchoring the show. We know how big the race is, but it’s still hard to express the effect it can have on people’s lives.
On Monday we learned how people form all over the world breathlessly hang on your every word as they wait to hear their name.
For the vast majority, they wait in vain.
But still, they wait.
Unlike many other triathlons around the world that simply pack in competitors like sardines, Norseman has its limitations. The winding roads and narrow passes, Zombie Hill and Gaustatoppen all dictate that there can only be a certain amount of competitors, but the legend of the race has become so great that the number wishing to take part far outstrips that number of spots available, and then some. Finding a way to make the draw as fair as possible is like trying to pass a camel through the eye of a needle; even if you do find the perfect format, there will still be those that are not happy, for the simple reason that theirs is not among the names called.
The process created by the volunteers involved in running the race – and there are many of them – was as transparent and random as possible.
From a selfish point of view as presenter and commentator, it suits me better to see the same names every year, as I don’t have to learn about new athletes and new stories. But the goal of Norseman is for as many as possible to experience this race, and there are very few “favourites” – athletes who have performed brilliantly before and who have been invited back, or whose performances in other races have earned them the right to take on the ultimate race.
Like the race sometimes does, the draw started slowly and quickly picked up pace as the names were fired out by the system and on to the screens. A documentary about the race shown in France saw a huge upswing in applications from there, and their quota of ten percent of the starting spots was filled before the draw was complete.
Racers who have been unsuccessful in past years were granted extra tickets in the draw to increase their chances, but with over 8000 tickets in total it was cold comfort; some were successful, but others, agonisingly, were not. Believe me, their pain was felt by the cast and crew.
Because ultimately, Norseman is run by people who love the sport, and love the landscape, and who love helping others be the best version of themselves that they can possibly be.
There is no desire for profit, and nor is there any desire to favour one competitor over another. The rules are clear – there are so many worthy causes and stories that none can be given preference. In an ideal world we would all do nothing but race that course and give every adventurer the chance to say that they had finished on top of the mountain, but that is not the way the world works. The draw is a mistress that is both cruel and utterly fair.
But for those 232 whose names were called, the exhilaration was complete. They own the precious chance to take part in something magical.
Congratulations to those who were successful.
Commiserations to those who were not.
The longest day of the next Norseman is already done, and we all have to live with the luck of the draw.
And for a very lucky few, their tomorrows all lead to Eidfjord.
Philip O’Connor is a sports journalist, commentator and storyteller working with Spocks Family in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2018 the team broadcast the Isklar Norseman race live for the second time. and in 2018 he commentated on the Norseman for the second time.