To combine two sports, even three, is a difficult task, and especially when you are trying to be among the best in your trade. Of course you have athletes that can compete in similar sports like cross country skiing and biathlon, but to have top class skills in football and ski jumping is unusual.
Bjørn Wirkola is a living legend in Norway, being a World Champion and three times winner of the famous ski jumping competition The German/Austrian Four Hill’s tour, which is the top competition in the sport, besides the Olympics and World Championships.
As a youth athlete, Bjørn Wirkola, won the World Championship in the “Nordic Combine”, where you do ski jumping and also cross country, so he managed to compete at the highest level there as well.
Ski-jumpers in Norway are like Sumo fighters in Japan, they are the real heroes. Bjorn Wirkola was also a World record holder of the longest jump ever, back in 1966, with 146m, and with 20 points for his fantastic style in the air and a perfect Telemark landing, he did hold that record for a few years as well.
Besides Wirkola’s Four Hill’s tournament wins from 1967 to 1969, still the only one to win three years in a row, he continued to be one of the best also number of years later. In 1972, at the competition in Bischofshofen (the last of the four, in the Four Hill’s), he won again.Embed from Getty Images
In between his great achievement in ski jumping, he had a more “hidden” career as a footballler, but still very much a special and good one. In 1971 he actually helped Rosenborg to reach “The Double” winning both the league and cup in Norwegian football. The legend later to be, Nils Arne Eggen was a young and unproven coach who had been given the job in a joint partnership with Tor Røste Fossen, and Bjørn Wirkola played alongside Norwegian legends such as Geir Karlsen, Odd Iversen and Harald Sunde.
He was not the only winter sports athlete in the top flight of Norwegian football at the time, playing against Dag Fornæs of Skeid, being a World Champion in ice skating. To see the two national heroes of winter sports competing against each other in a Norwegian top flight game of football will probably not happen again.
Rosenborg was at the time a heavy weighter in the game and with Wirkola in the team they achieved “The Double” act in 71. In the autumn of 1972 they competed in the European Cup, and sensationally was drawn against Celtic. In September that year Bjørn Wirkola would write history, few have ever talked about or really acknowledged.
The last winner of a competition in the German / Austrian ski jumping Four Hill’s (January 1972), was up against Kenny Dalglish and Lou Macari at Celtic. The two young Scots were in the start of their careers in football and promising players later to be stars at Manchester United and Liverpool. Both were in the line-up and to look at the score sheet after the game, is a bit surreal and fun read, goals from Wirkola, Macari and in the replay Dalglish scored. Few might have thought about the event as anything special, with Celtic being huge favorites, but when Bjorn in the 55th minute scored the final goal of the game, and it all ended in a 2-1 win to Celtic, it was really surreal. Later Bjorn has made a joke about it, saying he has never played at Hampden Park without scoring, not many can say that, probably a special and rare group of players.
Rosenborg, with Bjorn Wirkola in the team, were close to sensation when they at home in the replay scored an early leading goal in front of 16.300 specators at Lerkendal, it looked bright, but Celtic managed to get back on track and finally scored three goals that saw them through with a 3-1 win and 5-1 in total.
This was probably the icing of the cake for Bjørn Wirkola in his football career, but as a sportsman and skijumper he entertained much larger crowds, with more than 100.000 coming to watch on a great day at Holmenkollen and other great places for World ski jump events.
Bjorn made his debut in the Rosenborg team in 1971, played 68 league games, 23 cup games, competed in Europe, playing both in the UEFA Cup and European Cup, before moving on at the age of 31 and playing his final and last Rosenborg game v. Sarpsborg in 1974.
Wirkola also scored a goal in the 1971 cup final v. Fredrikstad, winning 4-1. Not much noticed, but one of the Worlds best ski jumpers ever, returned to Ullevål and played in two more cup finals. The 1972 and 1973 finals ended in defeats v. Brann and Stromsgodset.
In Norway, to jump after Wirkola, is a “saying” of something very difficult, but knowing that he also scored a goal v. Celtic at Hampden Park in the European Cup, winning the Norwegian league and cup double and also scoring a goal in one of the finals makes everything look impossible.
A fun fact to consider, is that former Liverpool defender Stig Inge Bjørnebye’s father, Jo Inge, was a well known ski jumper as well, competing internationally for Norway and in the Olympic team of 1972, together with Bjørn Wirkola. Bjørn Wirkola and Stig Inge Bjørnebye are also known as Rosenborg players, so the circle is in a way complete.