2020: Annus corona horribilis – also in the world of sport

Continued uncertainty over the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games 202(1) in Tokyo

Olympic Games (OG) and Paralympic Games (PG) are for athletes, both in Denmark and internationally, a very special event – not least because of the OG’s and PG’s enormous media coverage and the personal, collective and national prestige that is associated with winning the OG or PG medals. As early as the end of March 2020, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Government of Japan decided to postpone the 2020 Olympic Games to the period July 23 – August 8, 2021 and the 2020 Paralymic Games to the period August 24 – September 5, 2021. The IOC – and not least many Olympic federations, which have the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games as the overriding source of income – will go “incredibly far” in relation to global public health, to conduct the OG and the PL in the summer of 2021. Cancellation of the OG and the PG will result in the loss of giant television revenues and sharply declining revenues from commercial partners, which will throw all Olympic sports – except football – into an existential, economic crisis. Postponement of the OG and the PL has already resulted in an extra costs of DKK 12 billion for Japan as a nation and Tokyo as a city. The extra costs will be used in particular for a large number of measures to prevent the spread of infection during the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games. In addition, the support of the Japanese people for the OG and the PL has been markedly declining in recent months. The latest poll from the news media Kyodo News shows that over 70% of the Japanese population is in favor of a further postponement or a complete cancellation of the games. Most – and not least “sports fanatics” – can now “only” hope that an approved vaccine can create greater and better safety for all – athletes, coaches, leaders and spectators – when people from more than 200 countries gather to compete for Olympic and Paralympic honors.

Denmark has qualified OG athletes and teams in many sports

This year’s cancellations of the World Championships in i.a. badminton, wrestling, kayaking and rowing as well as the cancellations of the European Championships in i.a. athletics and swimming make it very difficult to assess the Danish medal chances in Tokyo. Overall, it can be stated that Denmark currently has qualified athletes and teams for the Olympic Games in 12 different sports: Athletics, table tennis, archery, wrestling, cycling (track and road), handball (men), kayaking, horseback riding (dressage, military and jumping), rowing, sailing, shooting and swimming. In addition, Denmark has very good chances of qualifying athletes in badminton and golf based on world ranking positions, so the number of sports probably lands close to 15, which was the number of Danish sports at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Track cycling has the most and biggest Olympic medal chances

In my opinion, the biggest Danish Olympic medal favorites must be found in track cycling, where the Danish riders at the World Championships in February achieved impressive results. This year’s by far the best Danish sports performance is the World Championship and a new world record with a time of 3.44.672 in 4 km team pursuit. Lasse Norman Hansen, Julius Johansen, Frederik Rodenberg and Rasmus Pedersen won ahead of New Zealand and Italy, whereas proud track cycling nations such as Australia and Great Britain disappointed terribly. These two nations have traditionally fought for Olympic and World Cup gold for a number of years. And they will definitely try to challenge Denmark in the battle for the Olympic gold medals in Tokyo. I also believe in the Olympic medal for the two experienced track riders – Lasse Norman Hansen and Michael Mørkøv – in madison. Both have previously won Olympic medals and in February 2020 they became supreme world champions. It will also be really exciting to follow both Julie Leth and Amalie Dideriksen in madison and Amalie Dideriksen in omnium at the upcoming Olympic Games. Recent years’ World Championships and World Cup results have shown that – also among the female track riders – there is medal potential.

Cycling is clearly the sport in Denmark that has shown the best results and the greatest sporting progress in the last 3-4 years. Danish riders have also achieved great results in 2020, both in classic races such as the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana as well as one-day classic races such as Gent-Welvelgen, which this year was won by ex-world champion Mads Pedersen. The impressive international level among Danish riders was also confirmed at the 2020 World Championships in September, which was held in Italy. It did not become World Championships medals, but 4 top 8 places in 4 different Olympic disciplines: Jakob Fuglsang was No. 5 in line race, Kasper Asgren was No. 6 in time trial, Cecilie Uttrup was No. 8 in line race and Emma Norsgaard was No. 7 in time trial. For that reason, road riders must also be credited with good medal chances when it gets off the road in and outside Tokyo.

Sailing is traditionally a strong Danish Olympic sport

I also believe in Olympic medals in sailing – one of the classic Danish Olympic sports. Over the years, Danish sailors have won as many as 30 Olympic medals, including 12 of gold. The 2020 World Championships in Olympic disciplines such as 49’s, 49’s FX, Nacra and Laser Radial, which was held in Australia just before the outbreak of the pandemic, unfortunately did not yield any World Championship medals, but all 4 top 8 places: Anne-Marie Rindom was No. 4 in Laser Radial, Jonas Warrer and Jacob Precht became No. 7 in 49’s, Anne-Julie Schütt and Iben Nielsby became No. 6 in 49’s FX, while Lin Cenholt and Christian Peter Lübeck became No. 8 in Nacra. In my opinion, Anne-Marie Rindum in Laser Radial has the greatest Olympic medal potential in Tokyo. Rindom has won 2 World Championships  and 2 WC bronze medals within the last 5 years and at the 2016 Olympic Games she won a bronze medal. I also think that Cenholt and Lübeck have good chances of winning a (surprising) Olympic medal in Tokyo.

Rowing and badminton also have Olympic medal candidates

Among good Danish sporting results in 2020 should also be mentioned Sverri E. Nielsen’s European Championship in rowing, not least because two of the strong Faroese’s probably worst competitors for the upcoming Olympic Games – Kjetil Borch from Norway and Oliver Zeidler from Germany – were clearly defeated in a nicely disposed finale. Viktor Axelsen’s All England victory in badminton, which was played immediately before the Covid-19 pandemic’s global lock-down, was also among the best Danish sports results in 2020.

The men’s national team handball delivered the most disappointing result

The most disappointing sporting performance of the year was, in my opinion, the Danish men’s national team handball at the European Championships at the beginning of 2020. It is extremely rare for a reigning Olympic champion and world champion to leave the European Championships after the group game. But a one-goal defeat to Iceland and a draw against Hungary meant an early return trip for an otherwise very victorious and medal-winning Danish national team. It will be exciting to follow the men’s national team’s performance, both at the World Championship in Egypt in a few weeks and not least at the Olympic Games, where the titles will be defended. I will not be surprised if it turns out to be both a World Championship and an Olympic medal – perhaps not of gold – but the quality and especially the variaty of top players on the Danish men’s national team is completely unique in recent years. The same quality and variaty is not found on the women’s national team handball, although the European Championships at home count contained several uplifting elements and good play leading up to a very disappointing performance against the tournament’s surprise Croatia in the battle for bronze medals.

The men’s national football team is going to two “exams” in the coming year

The Danish men’s national football team is facing two very exciting “exams” in 2021: the European Championship finals in 2020 with three home matches in the “Parken”: Finland (June 12), Belgium (June 17) and Russia (June 21). Based on the individual nations’ rankings on FIFA’s world rankings, Belgium (No. 1) and Denmark (No. 12) are favorites to advance from the group stage, but also in the world of football, big surprises happen from time to time. For me, it will also be a big surprise – or more precisely a big disappointment – if Denmark does not succeed in 2021 in qualifying for the 2022 World Championship in football, which will be held in the oil state of Qatar. Opponents in WC qualifiers – Austria (No. 23), Scotland (No. 48), Israel (No. 87), the Faroe Islands (No. 107) and Moldova (No. 177) – are all placed significantly lower on FIFA’s world rankings than Denmark (No. 12).

Finally, I would like to wish everyone – athletes, coaches, leaders and spectators – in Danish and international elite sports – a Merry Christmas and a very busy New sports Year.