Norway – the World’s best winter sport nation

In recent weeks, the World Championships 2019 in alpine skiing, Nordic disciplines – cross-country skiing, ski jumping and combined – and biathlon showed once again that Norway is the World’s best winter sports nation. Norway won a total of 38 WC medals (20 gold, 9 silver and 9 bronze medals) in 45 disciplines, including 44 per cent of the gold medals, which is Norway’s best result ever. 

The FIS Alpine World Ski Championship 2019, which was held in Åre near the Norwegian border, started with a total of 4 WC medals for the Norwegian athletes: WC gold medal to Kjertil Jansrud in men’s downhill and Henrik Kristoffersen in men’s giant slalom and WC silver medal in men’s downhill  to veteran Aksel Lund Svindal, who finished a great career at the WC. In addition, Ragnhild Mowinckel won the WC bronze medal in women’s alpine combined downhill.

The FIS Nordic World Ski Championship 2019, which were held in Seefeld, followed up with historic 25 WC medals, of which a total of 18 medals were won in cross-country skiing. Of these, no less than 10 were of the highest quality – gold medals – with Therese Johaug as World champion in both 10 km classic style, 15 km skiathlon and 30 km free style. An impressive comeback by 30-year-old Johaug after her 18-month doping ban. In addition, there were four WC medals (one gold, one silver and two bronze medals) in ski jumping and three WC medals (two gold and one silver medals) in a combined events for the Norwegian athletes and teams.

Finally, Norway won 9 WC medals (five gold, three silver and one bronze medals) at the IBU World Championships Biathlon 2019, which was held in Östersund also close to the Norwegian border. Here, Johannes Thingnes Boe was the most winning Norwegian athlete with five WC medals and no less than four of gold.

Norway was also at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, the best nation with a total of 39 Olympic medals,(14 gold, 14 silver and 11 bronze medals). Norway was the supreme winner of the all nation competition in front of strong winter sports nations such as Germany, Canada and the United States.

There are many explanations for Norway’s total dominance in winter sports. Firstly, recruiting children and youngsters for winter sports in Norway is quite unique. There are many strong clubs throughout Norway, both in alpine skiing, ski jumping and not least in cross-country skiing. The philosophy of the clubs and the Norwegian Ski Federation is to keep as many children as possible in the sport as long as possible through versatile training and competitions. Cross-country skiing is the sport in Norway, which in recent years has the greatest increase in membership of children and youngsters. There are many well-functioned ski clubs in the Oslo area such as Kjelsås IL, Lyn Ski and Fossum IF, all with more than 1,000 children and youngsters as members. It also means that cross-country skiing is the second largest sport among children in Norway, only surpassed by football.

Secondly, Norway has an ideal climate and optimal nature for winter sports. Global climate change means that the season for winter sports such as cross-country skiing, biathlon, Nordic combined and alpine skiing is very long, from mid-October to late May. The ideal climate and the optimal training facilities also mean that the vast majority of Norwegian top athletes in winter sports prefer to train at home and the National teams – both in cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, Nordic combined and biathlon – carry out more and more training camps in the Norwegian mountains, where climate and skiing conditions is absolutely optimal.

Thirdly, winter sports have become commercially very popular in Norway. In particular, football in Norway, like in the other Nordic countries, has been the top scorer in relation to the market value of commercial TV and sponsorship contracts. But in Norway, football and handball are challenged commercially by winter sports such as cross country skiing, biathlon and alpine skiing. The Norwegian Ski Federation and the Norwegian Biathlon Federation has entered into multi-year commercial partner contracts with Norwegian companies such as Spare Bank 1 (cross-country skiing), Telenor (alpine skiing) and DNB (biathlon). Economy is a more and more important factor in the global sporting arms race, also in winter sports. There is no doubt that the Norwegian great performances in recent weeks have increased the values in commercial partnerships, both individually and with the federations, towards the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Fourthly, the Olympiatoppen (OLT) has strengthened the regional structure in relation to clubs, federations and  research institutions by establishement of eight regional centers.  The centers, which are largely financed by the individual regions, can offer the Norwegian athletes and teams a number of expert services within sports medicine, testing, biomechanics, nutrition and sports psychology – the same services as these at OLT training center in Oslo. It is for that reason not surprising that many of the greatest talents in both cross-country and biathlon come from smaller villages spread throughout Norway. Norway has always had an excellent talent development for children and youngsters up to the age of 16-18 and many world-class athletes, but the transition of a talented junior to a world-class athlete has for many been far too difficult. Especially, it is “the next generation” – the 18-23-year-olds altheletes – who have received far better conditions with a stronger regional structure in Norwegian elite sports.

Fifthly, the collaboration between OLT and research institutions has been significantly expanded and intensified in recent years. Indeed, research and innovation at the highest international level are crucial for sporting success in international competitions. OLT has, among other things, established a collaboration with the Center for High Performance Research at NTNU about biomechanical analyzes in ski jumping. The purpose of the collaboration has been to analyze technique in ski jumping through measurements of power and movement in the laboratory in order to better understand the connection between hop technique and performance. The researchers at NTNU have carried out various tests and collected data from the athletes in the laboratory to subsequently discuss the athletes’ technique and development together with the coaches of the team. In this way, research contributes to both performance optimization in the short term and to a longer-term development of the best Norwegian ski jumpers.

Norway’s dominance in winter sports is also the main reason why Norway has been ranked No. 1 as the World’s best sports nation by the last two years of the International Research Institute “Greatest Sporting Nations” – http://www.greatestsportingnation.com – which includes 98 Olympic and non-Olympic disciplines. The other Nordic countries were placed with Sweden as No. 4, Finland as No. 11 and Denmark as No. 12. In the all nation competition of 2018, Norway achieved an impressive 11’th place in front of strong sports nations like Australia and Spain. In spite of Norway’s impressive results in winter sports, however, it has been more difficult for Norway to maintain a high international level in the summer sports. Both the 2012 Olympics (two gold, one silver and one bronze medal) and the 2016 Olympics (four bronze medals) were big disappointments for Norway. But apparently there is marked progress on the way of Norway in the summer sports. Norway, in contrast to Denmark, Sweden and Finland, has achieved good results the last two years in the summer sports, including athletics, rowing and shooting, so at least 6 Olympic medals for Norway at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo are definitely not unrealistic.

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