Norway: The Little Country That Could

The 2018 Winter Olympic games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was in many aspects a game of firsts. South Korea marched with North Koreans under a united flag for the first time since 1953. Russia was banned from competing for the first time due to accusations of illegal drug use, and the continent of Africa was debuted in the Bobsleigh event after the Nigerian Bobsleigh team qualified for the Games. However, one thing remained the same: a certain Scandinavian country, small in size and population, dominated the medals table - again.

Norway, a country which remains essentially anonymous on the international stage, has made a habit of turning up to the Winter Olympics every four years and absolutely dominating. Germany has 83 million people to choose from, Russia have 144 million, the United States of America has 323 million. Norway have just 5 million, yet nobody else stands a chance. This year they ended the games with the most golds (14) and the most medals (39), just like they did four years ago in Sochi.* So how can a country, which some Americans don’t even know exists, outshine the world’s biggest superpowers on the grandest stage in Winter Sports?

There are many theories that have been entertained on this subject. The first may initially seem counterintuitive, but upon further consideration, makes a lot of sense. Norway’s treatment of young athletes contrasts greatly to that of the United States. In Norway, they do not introduce any element of competition until the child is 13, whereas in America, competition and rankings start immediately. This holds even for Norwegian athletes of elite level. This method is adopted because the priority is for the children to participate out of personal desire - because they think it’s fun! - not because they were excellent skiers at 5 years old, were ranked as the best 5 year old in the nation, and forced to compete thereafter. Consequently those Norwegians who do decide to turn professional do so for the principal reason that they want to. This is not something that not all athletes from around the world can truthfully say.

The second major theory is that Norwegians, on the whole, do lead rather stress-free lives. All education and higher education in Norway is free, all healthcare services are free and the country also ranks number one on the Human Development Index (HDI) which measures quality of life. In other words, the overwhelming majority of Norwegians have the mental and financial stability to engage in hobbies and sports if they are so inclined. Very few have to worry about the cost of pursuing a hobby of, for example, downhill skiing; they can just go out and do it, whenever they want.

Norway seems to have the winter sports code to success sorted out: they have the most medals out of anyone since the first Winter Olympics took place in 1924, and from their landslide victory at Pyeongchang, it doesn’t like they are going to be dropping off anytime soon. If these theories are true, America has to address current healthcare and inequality problems, potentially by becoming a socialist republic… all in the next four years. Or, if you’re an aspiring athlete under the age of 13 - just move to Norway.

*Excluding Russia who did finish top of the medals table but were later disqualified as their athletes were taking illegal substances.