Comet in the Sky: Torger Tokle [1]

Torger Tokle Early in the spring of 1959, it was announced that six Americans had been elected to the Ski Hall of fame [3] at the National Ski Museum at Ishpeming, Michigan. To many it will seem that this great honor was most fittingly bestowed on Torger Tokle, the young ski jumper who came to American shores from his native Norway in 1939 and who, after a spectacular career, laid down his life for his adopted country [4] a short six years later.

Torger Tokle has been called "The Babe Ruth of Skiing," and while some would modify this to "of Ski Jumping" the fact remains that Torger's meteoric and brilliant career did much to ignite and to increase interest in the sport of skiing among the American public, in the press and even among the practitioners of the sport themselves. In fact, it may be said that hardly ever in the history of competitive sports has there been another performer who, like he, from the very moment of his arrival on the sporting scene, so completely dominated the picture during all the years he participated.

In the history of the Norway Ski Club, [5] Torger Tokle already holds and will always hold an honored niche. During the four years he competed on American soil he wore the colors of the Brooklyn club and represented it in tournaments across the continent.

First American Competition, 1939

Many Norway Ski Club members remember well the first day Torger competed in the U.S., only a few hours after his arrival in New York in January, 1939. The meet took place in Bear Mountain, and Torger, on borrowed skis, had been entered in Class B. He not only won his class but far out-jumped the whole field of Class A! In the language of show business: a new star had been born.

Another highlight of that first season was Torger's duel with Reider Andersen, renowned Norwegian and Holmenkollen champion, [6] at the Eastern Championships in Laconia, NH. Torger had been moved up to Class A in order to meet the Norwegian stylist on even terms. What no one had dared prophesy did happen; the longer flights of Torger gave him a tie for first place with the great Andersen.

The next season, the powerful jumping and the tremendous distances achieved by Torger continued to fire the imagination of the American public and gave the sport of skiing a shot in the arm. American jumpers like Alf Engen, Harald Sorensen, Mezzy Barber and Arthur Devlin were spurred to greater heights through competition and association with young Torger. He continued winning first places and championships and broke hill records wherever he appeared; but at the Nationals of that year he saw Alf Engen cop top honors.

The next year, however, at Hyak, Washington, Torger won the U.S. title with a new [American record] distance mark of 288 feet, to which he added the Eastern and the Central Championships.

The season of 1942 was perhaps to be the most dramatic in his career.

A Norwegian Airman from the Little Norway training camp in Canada [7] nosed Torger out for both National and Eastern titles, but in Lake Placid and in Brattleboro Torger turned the tables on his rival and beat him soundly in both meets.

At Brattleboro he also retired the famed Winged Trophy, [8] which had been considered well-nigh "perpetual." And at Iron Mountain, Michigan, he bettered his American distance record by one foot, stretching it to 289 feet!

Torger joined the U.S. Army in October, 1942, and was eventually placed where he belonged and wanted to be--in the Ski Troops on the 86th Mountain Regiment. This kind of skiing was radically different, no more jumping, no more ovations from the public. But Torger undertook his new and exacting tasks with his usual good humor and ability and before long received his sergeant's stripes. In the spring of 1945 the 86th took part in the invasion of Italy, and in early March was assigned the mission of reducing a German stronghold at Monte Terracia in the Apennines. Leading his men into action on March 3, Torger was hit--and died on the battlefield.

To the skiers of America, Torger, whose career spanned only a few short years, seems like a comet in the sky. He left behind a record unmatched on the annals of competitive skiing, breaking no less than twenty-four hill records and winning forty-two of the forty-eight tournaments in which he took part. Truly an unequalled performance.

He not only left behind him the memory of his deeds. Perhaps more important, his club-mates will always cherish the memory of his friendly, cheerful and unassuming ways even in the midst of adulation. In spite of his amazing accomplishments Torger always remained the quiet and regular fellow he had been when he first arrived. He was completely unaffected by the glory that had come his way; his warm and friendly personality endeared him to every one, his friends, fellow skiers, and fans alike.

Some time after Torger's death, the Norway Ski Club, with the consent of the National Ski Association, put up a Torger Tokle Memorial Trophy for the annual competition at the National Ski. This beautiful Trophy is now in the National Ski Museum in Ishpeming, Michigan. It is to be competed for in perpetuity, with replicas given to the winners. It was first awarded at the National Championships in 1948, at Hyak, Washington, where Torger had won his own national title. Since then the trophy has been won by many of America's top-notch skiers and it will serve to keep the memory of Torger Tokle alive among the devotees of the sport he loved so well.

[1] This article was taken from the 1959 issue of the Eastern Ski Annual.

[2] Erik Friis, born in Norway, wrote and published material on Norwegian culture.

[3] Hall of Fame Class of 1959: Alexander Bright, Raymond S. Elmer, Alf Engen, Robert "Barney" McLean, Charles N. Proctor, Torger Tokle.

[4] "his country" perhaps--it was Tokle's native Norway which was occupied by the Nazis and its citizens shipped south to work camps in Germany and Poland. During that period, young Norwegian men found many ways to make their way to neutral or allied soil where they trained for the liberation of their homeland.

[5] Author Friis was President of the Norway Ski Club 1942-1946 and a few paragraphs glorify the Club more than they glorify Tokle.

[6] During this time, U.S. divisional and national championships were "open" to skiers from any nation. Finally, in 1951, a revolt among American competitors at the Brattleboro Nationals forced the National Ski Association to deny foreign jumpers the right to American titles.

[7] Contemporary reports identified the 1942 champion simply as "Ola". His actual name, Ola Aanjesen, was suppressed to protect his family in Norway from oppression aimed at placing pressure on Ola. (War is hell!)

[8] Put your name three times on a Winged Ski Trophy and you take it home. This has been done by Torger Tokle, (brother) Arthur Tokle, Art Devlin, Hugh Barber and now Vladimir Glyvka.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

[ Eastern USSA ] [ INDEX ]