Which Nordic countries have the greatest chances of sporting success at the 2021 Olympics?

July 6, 2020

In late March 2020, after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japan’s government decided to postpone the XXXII Olympic Games, which should have been held during the period July 24 – August 9, 2020. And, probably until the summer of 2021, there will continue to be great uncertainty about the Olympic Games due to the risk of virus infection among athletes, coaches, leaders and spectators from all over the world. For everybody, it is completely unfamiliar to postpone the Olmpics, both sporting, health and financial. At present, approx. 60% of the Olympic qualifying places are distributed, either personally or as national places. In total, 11,090 athletes from more than 200 nations will compete for 339 medal sets in 33 different sports next summer in Tokyo. But which Nordic countries have the greatest chance of sporting success at the 2021 Olympic Games: Which athletes and teams are qualified and who are among the medal candidates at this time?

Swedish athletes and national teams won as many as 16 World Championships medals in 2019

Today Sweden has secured qualification for the Olympic Games 2021 in 13 sports: Athletics, table tennis, wrestling, archery, cycling (road), football (women), gymnastics (artistic), judo, kayaking, equestrian (dressage, eventing and jumping), sailing, shooting and swimming. In addition, Sweden also has really good chances of qualifying in handball, both women’s team and men’s team, golf and taekwondo in the upcoming qualifying tournaments or by the world rankings. By contrast, there is no indication that Sweden qualify for the new sports on the Olympic program: Baseball (men), softball (women), climbing, karate, skateboarding and surfing. Sweden has always had a tradition of qualifying in many sports, but in my point of wiew Sweden gets very difficult to qualify in 22 different sports, as was the case at the 2016 Olympic Games, where Sweden won 11 medals in 7 different sports. Swedish athletes and teams, however, have in recent years achieved very good World Championship results in Olympic disciplines. Sweden won no less than 16 WC medals in Olympic disciplines in 2019 and the top 8 ranking points at the WC have also been larger in recent years than in the years before the 2016 Olympic Games. Sweden is thus strongly ahead of the 2021 Olympics with the potential medalist in athletics at the only 21-year-old pole vault Armand Duplantis, who won the WC silver medal in 2019 and a few months ago set a new world record with a jump of 6.18 meters. Additionally, discus thrower Daniel Ståhl, who won the WC silver medal in 2017 and became world champion in 2019, is a strong medalist candidate in Tokyo. However, in my opinion, the biggest medal favorite is 26-year-old swimming star Sarah Sjöström, who won a total of 3 medals in the 2016 Olympic Games and no less than 4 medals in Olympic disciplines at the 2019 World Championships. Additionally, in sports, such as wrestling, golf, equestrian, sailing, shooting and soccer for women, Swedish athletes and team has realistic medal chances at the 2021 Olympics Games.

Denmark is very far from the level before the 2016 Olympic Games

Denmark was the best performing Nordic nation at the 2016 Olympics Games, with a total of 15 medals in 9 different sports – one of the historically best Danish Olympic results ever. Today, Denmark has secured qualification for the Olympic Games 2021 in 12 sports: Athletics, table tennis, wrestling, archery, cycling (road and track), handball (men), kayaking, equestrian (dressage, jumping and eventing), rowing, sailing, shooting and swimming. In addition, Denmark has very good chances of qualifying athletes in badminton and golf by world rankings, so that the number of sports with Danish participation at the Olympics 2021 comes very close to 15, which was the number at the 2016 Olympic Games. Danish athletes and teams showed good World Championship results in 2019 in Olympic disciplines, with a total of 12 medals and no less than three of gold: Mads Pedersen in road cycling, Anne-Marie Rindom in sailing (Laser Radial) and handball for men. Both Rindom, who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games and the men’s team handball, who are defending Olympic champions, are, in my opinion, potential medalists in Tokyo. However, the biggest Danish medal favorites are the 4 km team pursuit in track cycling, which in February 2020 became World Champions and at the same time set a new world record with time 3 minutes and 46.203 seconds. Additionally, Lasse Norman Hansen and Michael Mørkøv in madison have shown world class over the past few years and the two experienced riders are a really good bid for Danish Olympic gold in Tokyo. In addition to track cycling, sailing and handball, badminton with Viktor Axelsen and Anders Antonsen in men’s singles as well as kayaking with Emma Åstrand Jørgensen in the K1 200 must be awarded realistic medal chances at the 2021 Olympic Games. In contrast to Sweden and Norway, Denmark has achieved significantly fewer medals and Top-8 placement points at the World Championships in recent years. On that background, it will be more than difficult to get near by 15 medals at the 2021 Olympic Games.

Norwegian athletes and national teams have shown very marked progress in the last 3 years

Norway has achieved many good World Championship results, both in terms of WC medals and Top-8 placement points, in recent years. And all indications are that Norway will win significantly more medals and get far more Top-8 ranking points at the 2021 Olympic Games than at both the 2012 Olympic Games and the 2016 Olympic Games, both of which were very disappointing for one of the world’s best sports nations. Today, Norway has secured qualification for the 2021 Olympic Games in 8 sports: Athletics, cycling (road and track), gymnastics (artistic), equestrian (dressage and jumping), rowing, sailing, shooting and swimming. In addition, Norway has very good chances of qualifying for the Olympic handball tournament, both for women and men. And in my opinion, both handball teams must also be considered realistic potential medalists. In particular, Norway’s women’s handball team has achieved impressive results at the past three Olympic Games with two gold medals and one bronze medal. Among the biggest medal candidates should also be mentioned the 400 meter hurdles runner Karsten Warholm, who became World Champion in the distance in both 2017 and 2019, and the swimmer Henrik Christiansen, who won the WC silver medal at the 800 free style in 2019 and the single sculler Kjetil Borch, who won the World Championship in 2018 and the WC bronze medal in 2019. Among Borch’s competitors for the Olympic medals is the faroe Sverri Nielsen, which has shown impressive progress in the past year.

Finland may find it difficult to avoid sporting Olympic failure in Tokyo

Finland, unlike Norway, has won very few World Championship medals and achieved few Top-8 ranking points in recent years. Finnish athletes or teams hold only one World Championship medals in Olympic disciplines in 2019, and many suggest that Finland may have difficulty in improving the nation’s worst summer Olympics ever, the 2016 Olympic Games where it became only a single bronze medal. Today, Finland has only secured qualification for the 2021 Olympic Games in 6 sports: Athletics, cycling (road), equestrian (dressage), sailing, shooting and swimming. In addition, Finland has good chances to qualify athletes in martial arts such as boxing, wrestling, taekwondo and judo as well as weightlifting and golf. However, I do not think that Finland comes close to representation in 16 sports, as was the case in Rio. In my opinion, the highest medal chances among Finnish athletes is the wrestler Petra Olli, who has previously won the World Championship and the sailor Tuula Tenkanen in Laser Radial. Additionally, Lizzie Armanto, who is born and raised in California, US in the new olympic sport – Skateboarding. 

Iceland has no medal candidates, but will probably qualify in 5 sports

Iceland has won four Olympic medals over the years, lastest the silver medal in the men’s handball tournament at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. At present, Iceland has only qualified swimmer Anton Sveinn McKee (200 m breaststroke), but hopefully obtain qualification in one or two sports more over the next 11 months.

Of course, much can happen over the coming year. Some athletes and teams can make great progress, while others may find it difficult to maintain their current level – or be “overtaken” by competitors from other nations. Overall, however, there is reason for optimism for the Nordic nations – not least Sweden and Norway – while Denmark, Finland and Iceland may find it difficult to achieve results as at the 2016 Olympic Games.

You can find more information about each country’s results and Olympic qualifications on the following websites: