Sports year 2018: It’s still the wrong direction for Danish elite sports
December 10, 2018
The Danish national team in women’s team handball ended with a modest 8’th place at the European Championships in France in the sports year 2018. It’s now 14 years since Denmark has won a medal at EC in women’s team handball and the way back to the world’s top four for the women’s team in handball is, after my perception, very long and unrealistic within the next 3-5 years. The same position has the Danish national team in women’s football. A salary conflict between the Danish Football Association (DBU) and the players was the main reason why the national team did not qualify for the World Cup next summer in France and hereby also lost the national team’s chance of qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. But what’s really the status of Danish elite sport 20 months before the 2020 Olympic Games, which is the decisive “exam” for all Olympic federations in Denmark.
Poor results of Danish athletes and teams in 2018 than in 2014
It’s difficult to compare sport results in each year as the number and grade of international championships are different. The most accurate analysis is, in my opinion, to compare results in 2018 and 2014 in relation to the number of World Championships medals in the Olympic disciplines and top 8 ranking points at World Rankings. In both measurements, Denmark’s result in 2018 is poorer than in 2014. Unfortunately, the sad trend of 2017 continues with a markedly falling level of performances of Danish elite sport. Danish top-athletes and teams won in 2018 five medals at the World Championships in Olympic disciplines. Cycling has been the most winning sports with three medals at WC; Silver medals for Amalie Dideriksen (track cycling – omnium), 4 km team pursuit (track cycling) and Annika Langvad (MTB), while the other two WC-medals were won by Emma Jørgensen (silver medal in kayak – K1 200) and Anne-Marie Rindom (bronze medal in sailing – Laser Radial). In 2014, Danish top athletes and teams won eight medals at WC, distributed on badminton (3), sailing (2), rowing (1), cycling (1) and kayaking (1).
No gold medals in Olympic disciplines
There are Olympic sports where there has been no World Championships in 2018. The Danish Institute for Sports Studies (IDAN) has chosen this year to include either World Ranking (tennis, swimming and athletics) or EC Ranking (handball) to compare the results for all years. If this method is used, the Danish top-athletes and team results in 2018 is significantly poorer than the results in 2014: 7 “WC-medals” (5 silver medals and 2 bronze medals = 12 medal points) this year against 13 “WC-medals” (2 gold-, 7 silver- and 4 bronze medals = 24 medal points) in 2014. In particular, it is very remarkable that Denmark in 2018 did not win a single WC-gold medal in Olympic disciplines – it happened last time in 1983, 35 years ago. If top 8 ranking points at the World Championships are used as a benchmark for Danish results in 2018, it’s still a sad trend for Danish elite sport. Danish top-athletes and teams achieved 122 top 8 ranking points this year against 129 top 8 ranking points in 2014.
Cycling is the sport with the best medal chances at the 2020 Olympics
The best results of Danish athletes and teams in 2018 were achieved in cycling, both in track cycling, road cycling, MTB and BMX. Especially, women’s performances have been very uplifting and Denmark can really benefit from a larger number of Olympic disciplines for women at the 2020 Olympic Games. Cycling is the sovereign sports with the greatest medal potentials at the upcoming Olympics. Of course, not all medal candidates win an Olympic medal, but I think cycling wins at least three and maybe four or five Olympic medals in Tokyo. Based on the results of 2o18, I also think that kayaking with Emma Jørgensen (K1 200) and Rene Holten Poulsen (K1 1,000), sailing with Anne-Marie Rindom in Laser Radial, men’s team handball, and swimming with Pernille Blume (50 meters free) have good medal potentials at the 2020 OG. However, the number of Danish Olympic medal candidates in Tokyo 2020 is currently clearly less than the number of Olympic medal candidates 20 months before Rio 2016 and London 2012, where Denmark won “only” 9 Olympic medals (2 gold -, 4 silver and 3 bronze medals) in 5 different sports.
Several sports have great difficulty in maintaining international top level
Two sports – badminton and rowing – traditionally achieving international top results at the World Championships and the Olympic Games, are, from my perspective, today without Olympic medal candidates – except Viktor Axelsen, who became World Champion in 2017 and he is still among the world’s top badminton players. Both rowing and badminton had before the last two Olympic 3-4 medal candidates – this is definitely not the case today. At the moment, I do not see Danish Olympic medal chances either in athletics or in wrestling. So, in total, eight Olympic medals in 2020 are, in my opinion, the most realistic Danish facit based on the results at WC in the last two years – 2017 and 2018. Unfortunately, this number is very far from the 15 Olympic medals (2 gold -, 6 silver and 7 bronze medals) in 9 different sports that Denmark achieved at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. There are several explanations for the sad development, but the most important reason is, in my opinion, a weak support programme for Danish elite sports in the period 2017-2020. The price for a visionless and inadequate support programme can be very high and Team Denmark should – as soon as possible – develop and launch a new support programme of far more quality.
The world is changeable and much can change within a split second – also in elite sport. With this positive message, I would like to wish everyone in Danish and international elite sport a happy New Year.