Norway's Winter Olympic success is unrivaled
It's won more medals than any other nation since the Games began in 1924
It’s a nation made up of only 5.2 million people, but as far as the Winter Olympics goes Norway is on top of the world.
Norway has dominated not only PyeongChang 2018, but has also won more medals than any other nation since the first Winter Olympics in 1924 – with 330 in total according to data compiled by Sports Reference.
But that’s not all. Norway won a staggering 39 medals – 14 of those being gold in Pyeongchang – as it topped the overall medal table.
That’s 10 medals more than Canada overall and eight clear of Germany, which also has 14 golds to sit second in the medal table. Team USA is 16 medals behind Norway.
Norway’s latest medal, Marit Bjoergen’s gold in cross-country skiing, moved its tally two clear of USA’s record of 37 medals set at Vancouver in 2010. It is also equaled Canada’s mark of 14 golds, also set at Vancouver.
“I knew that if we won a medal today we would make history for Norway,” said Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen, part of the Norway skiing team.
“Even underneath the suit I get goosebumps talking about it, that the Alpine team could get that 38th medal.”
Born with skis on their feet?
With Norway’s population roughly the same size as the US city of Atlanta, the Scandinavian country has has one great advantage over its Olympic rivals – it has almost unlimited access to snow with 30,000 kilometers of marked trails.
Team Norway’s Johannes Høsflot Klæbo – who has won three gold medals at these Games – told CNN Sport that skiing is a part of Norwegians’ lives.
“We always say you are born with your skis on,” said the 21-year-old cross-country skier. “On Sundays everyone goes into the woods with their skis on … everyone wants to do it.”
Winning by focusing on not winning
However, developing talent is never an easy process – often children can be pressured by coaches and parents and sometimes fail to realize their early promise.
In Norway, children are encouraged to join local sport clubs to help with their social development but there’s strict rules which prevents anyone from keeping score – no one can be ranked first to last until they turn 13.
“We want them to be in sports because they want to be,” Tore Øvrebø, head of the Norwegian team, explained to CNN Sport. The focus is on other aspects, he says, not the competitive side.
“Instead (of winning) they want to have fun and they want to develop not only as athletes but as social people.”
He says the Nordic nation’s focus is to let children create and navigate their own path.
“The point is to ask what is in a sport for kids,” he said. “We have a responsibility to give kids a nice sport to develop in so we’re thinking the other way around – not, ‘OK, we need so many kids to make a national team.’”
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg pointed out that the country’s sporting infrastructure has also played its part in Norway’s Winter Olympic success.
“I think we are very good at organizing events early on. You don’t get a fully fledged downhill skier or cross country skier in a short while. It starts when you’re young.
“There’s a large focus on sports and athletics among young people (in Norway) and some of them get very good because they’re living close to downhill ski arenas or have parents who will drive them a long way to get to training.”
At PyeongChang 2018, Norway has dominated cross-country skiing and won medals in alpine skiing, biathlon, curling, freestyle skiing, ski jumping and speed skating.
Many Team Norway athletes have also competed in more than just one event.
While that can be seen as a strategic way of competing – given it arguably increases the country’s chances of winning more medals – Øvrebø says that’s more of a happy coincidence.
“They’re the most popular sports in Norway,” he explained. “We didn’t have to do that strategically – we just kept on and professionalized the sports that we were already in love with. So that makes the recruitment process quite easy.
“It’s an organic system because we’re doing what we like to do and we’re doing it well.”