Sports Year 2019: Historic World Championships and few Top 8-rankings
The 2019 World Championships in Handball became two very different experiences, for players, coaches, managers, journalists and spectators. In the first month of the year, the Danish men’s team for the first time ever won the World Championship in handball. On home court, the men’s team throughout the World Championship – not least in the semi-final against France and the final against Norway – delivered a number of outstanding performances with fantastic support from the fans in Herning. The same stability showed the Danish women’s team far from at the last two weeks World Championship in Japan. Several matches were characterized by a large number of technical errors and a very low bottom level, which meant that Denmark did not achieve a ranking among the world’s 8 best teams. The disappointing performance also meant that the women’s team – as in 2016 – failed to qualify for the upcoming Olympics. It is strange to me that both Team Denmark and the Danish media – not least TV2 and DR – spend so much resources on a product of such poor quality.
In addition to Denmark’s historic World Championship in men’s team handball, other world-class performances were also delivered by Danish athletes and teams in 2019. The only 23-year-old cyclist Mads Pedersen became the first Danish world champion for male professionals in road cycling and the sailor Anne-Marie Rindom won both the World Championships and the European Championships in Laser Radial – a fantastic result which also resonated in international sailing. The sympathetic sports student from Aarhus was also named “Rolex World Sailor of the Year 2019” by “World Sailing” because of the results – like the first Dane ever.
In 2019, Danish athletes and teams have won a total of 12 World Championship medals in Olympic disciplines. which is very positive. Cycling has been best with 4 WC medals. In addition to Mads Pedersen’s World Championship, Lasse Norman Hansen and Casper Folsach won the WC silver medals in madison (track cycling), while the Danes in the team pursuit race (track cycling) and Julie Leth and Amalie Dideriksen in madison (track cycling) won the WC bronze medal. Cycling, especially track and road, has clearly been the sport in Danish elite sport that has had the greatest progress over the past few years. And it is particularly impressive that the recruitment and development of world-class riders is based on a very limited number of youth riders. Sailing has also had a really good year with 3 WC medals in Olympic disciplines. In addition to Anne Marie Rindom’s World Championship, Lin Ea Cenholt and Christian Peter Lübeck won the WC silver medal in Nacra 17, while Ida Maria Baad and Marie Thusgaard won the WC bronze medal in Auckland in New Zealand. In other words, cycling and sailing have won more than half of the Danish WC medals in 2019. The other 5 WC medals in 2019 are divided into 3 sports: Rowing, badminton and kayak. Sverri S. Nielsen (rowing) won the WC silver medal in single sculler, just as Anders Antonsen (badminton) did in men’s singles (badminton). Finally, Emma Aastrand Jørgensen (kayak) in the K1 won 200 meters and W4- with Christina Juhl Johansen, Lærke Berg Rasmussen, Frida Sanggaard Nielsen and Ida Gärtz Jacobsen (rowing) the WC bronze medals.
The number of WC medals in Olympic disciplines – together with the number and value of top 8 rankings at the World Championships or in the World rankings – are the best indicators for the international level of Danish elite sport. It is difficult to compare the results in different years, as the number of international events vary from year to year. However, it makes good sense to compare the results in 2019 and 2015 – the last year before the Olympics. The number of WC medals in Olympic disciplines is slightly higher in 2019 than in 2015, when it became 11 WC medals, divided into swimming (3), badminton (2), sailing (2), wrestling (1), cycling (1), kayak (1) and rowing (1). By contrast, the number and value of top 8 rankings in 2019 is lower than in 2015. Danish athletes and teams have only achieved 21 top 8 rankings at the World Championships this year compared to 27 in 2015. Similarly, Danish athletes and teams have achieved only 112 ranking points in Olympic disciplines against 133 ranking points in 2015.
Assessing the chances of Danish success at the 2020 Olympics will be associated with great risks based only on the number of WC medals in 2019. It is a fact that Danish elite sport has had a markedly declining results over the past three years. In the period 2017-2019 Denmark achieved significantly worse WC results than in the comparative period 2013-2015. The number of WC medals has been 25 (medal points: 43) in 2017-2019 against 31 (medal points: 55) in 2013-2015, while the total number of top 8 ranking points in 2017-2019 has been 349 against 409 in 2013-2015 – a decrease of 15-20%. The declining performance level also applies in non-Olympic sports, such as orienteering, speedway, sports dance and bowling. The negative trend can also be seen on the “Greatest Sporting Nation Ranking” (https://www.greatestsportingnation.com/), which records international results in 98 Olympic and non-Olympic disciplines, where Denmark has thus fallen from a total ranking as No. 26 in 2013-2015 to No. 34 in 2017-2019 in the rankings of all nations and from No. 9 in 2013-2015 to No. 14 in the ranking of all nations per capita – by nations such as Bahrain, Estonia, Croatia, Serbia and Finland.
Based on the WC results of recent years, a realistic target for the 2020 Olympics will be 10 medals. In my opinion, the most obvious medal candidates are track cycling – both Madison and omnium for women and men as well as 4 km team pursuit races. In addition, Anne-Marie Rindom as well as Lin Ea Cenholt and Christian Peter Lübeck (sailing), Emma Aastrand Jørgensen (kayak), Viktor Axelsen and Anders Antonsen (badminton), W4- and Sverri Nielsen (rowing) and not least the men’s handball team are considered for being good candidates for Danish Olympic medals in Tokyo. At present, I do not see Danish Olympic medal chances in either athletics or wrestling: Two sports, where Danish athletes won two Olympic silver medals 4 years ago. There are, of course, more explanations for the markedly poor results of Danish elite sports in the past 3 years than before. Sports such as swimming, badminton, rowing, shooting, orienteering, sports dancing, speedway and bowling, which have traditionally won many international medals for the World Championships and the European Championships, have apparently failed to secure a strong “food chain” of athletes and teams at the highest international level. Team Denmark’s support concept 2017-2020 has also been far too visionless and insufficent to develop Danish elite sport. The result should not be finally evaluated after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but 12 WC medals in 2019 have certainly increased my optimism concerning Danish Olympic medals in cycling, sailing, rowing, badminton, kayak and men’s team handball.
Finally, I would like to wish everyone – athletes, coaches, managers and fans – in Danish and international elite sports a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Sport Year.