Margit Nordin was a physical education instructor and a physiotherapist. She was the first woman to enter Vasaloppet (an annual long-distance ski race) in 1923.
Margit Nordin was born in the late 1800s in Karlstad. Little is known of her childhood. She trained as a physical education instructor and physiotherapist. In Grängesberg, where she lived for a time, she was active within both professions. A number of her patients lived a great distance away and by bringing them in on foot, or on skis in the wintertime, Margit Nordin became extremely fit.
Margit Nordin’s excellent physical condition inspired her to see if she could complete the distance required for Vasaloppet, a race of ten Swedish miles which became established in 1922. When she applied to compete in the race it caused a stir. However, as there was no regulation which expressly forbade women from competing the race organisers were unwillingly forced to accept her application. The race was considered to be a test of manhood and no-one had previously believed that a woman would willingly put herself forward for such a test.
Margit Nordin was among the 161 competitors who spent the night before Sunday 4 March 1923 at the Sälen camp. Åke Jönsson has reproduced an interview with Margit Nordin for the magazine Populär historia in which she stated that her male competitors – who were, in the main, foresters – were pleasant and helpful. This same impression applied to the public who watched the race. Margit Nordin came in last place, almost four hours after the male winner. However, the patient and cheering crowd waited until Margit Nordin finally skied across the finish line.
The two facts that not only had a woman completed Vasaloppet but she had received more extensive ovations than the better-performing male skiers generated resentment among sports-journalists. The next day’s press unilaterally expressed the view that women should not be allowed to enter Vasaloppet. This view was also adopted by the race organisers. It was not until 1979 that women were again allowed to apply, albeit only in the ‘öppet spår’ – where you only race against yourself and not against other competitors. The full event remained inaccessible to women until 1981. Nevertheless, women defied this decision throughout the period of the ban. Several women completed the race disguised as men.
Margit Nordin never sought to develop a sporting career. She just wanted to test her capabilities. She did not engage in any kind of feminist struggle within the skiing world but instead she accepted the race organisers’ decision. After 1923 she never raced on skis again.
Margit Nordin died in Saltsjöbaden in 1982.