Born with skis on: Norway celebrates Winter Olympics medal record

Jubilation in Nordic nation of 5.3 million at squads 39 medals, eclipsing haul by US with its own population 60 times bigger

For a fortnight every four years, Norway does not function with its customary Scandinavian efficiency. Telephone call run temporarily unanswered; dialogues drift, mid-sentence, into silence; classrooms empty.

” It’s normal, I guess ,” said Christina Nygard, a marketing manager in Oslo.” This is our moment, when we can show the world what we are. Although without boasting too much about it, of course. That wouldn’t be very Norwegian .”

But when Marit Bjorgen stormed to victory in the women’s 30 km cross-country on the final day of the Pyeongchang Games, so far ahead of the field that no one else on the course could even consider her, Norway could be forgiven for boasting a little.

Not merely had Bjorgen, with her 15 th medal, become the most decorated athlete in Winter Olympic history( the second and third on the listing, biathlete Ole Einar Bjorndalen and the legendary 1990 s skier Bjorn Daehlie, are also Norwegian ).

A Norwegian fan celebrates as Norway win gold and bronze in the women’s 10 km freestyle cross-country. Photograph: Odd Andersen/ AFP/ Getty Images

But her win brought the country’s Pyeongchang tally to a remarkable 39 medals, topping the table and eclipsing both Canada’s record for golds won at a single games and the largest previous total medal carry of 37, held since 2010 by the US- whose population is more than 60 times Norway’s.

” It would be difficult to imagine a better aiming ,” said the national daily Aftenposten of Bjorgen’s performance.” This was the prefect finish to the Olympics- not just for her, but also for Norway … We have run out of superlatives .”

The Nordic nation of 5.3 million people expends every winter games in something resembling” a kind of state of emergency”, said Vegard Einan, a resulting trades union official, taking collective time out for the main medal events. These ones were no exception.

A pre-games Olympics poll found that nearly 25% of Norwegian employees fully expected to be able to watch at the least the biggest races of the working day while they were at work, with 12% saying they intended to defy any management order not to.

Employees of Kahoot, an Oslo startup, watching a Wintertime Olympics ski event. Photograph: Fredrik Varfjell/ AFP/ Getty Images

Most companies seem not to have risked the wrath of their workers. It helped, said Fredrik Jensen, who runs a small temp agency, that because of the time difference, events in South Korea were over by soon after lunchtime in Norway.

” I’ve no objection to staff taking a few minutes off to collect round the Tv ,” Jensen said.” We all work better afterwards, don’t we? And I can’t imagine people’s frustration if they couldn’t watch .”

The prime minister, Erna Solberg, who was watched glued to her mobile phone and tablet during major medal events, dedicated the practice the thumbs-up, observing that if video games could trigger a” short-term fall in efficiency”, people were” happy when Norway does well, and this means improved productivity “.

The prime minister, Erna Solberg, congratulates Norway’s gold medallists in the men’s 4x10km relay cross-country skiing in Pyeongchang. Photo: Jean Catuffe/ Getty Images

School educators, too, had unwritten permission to assemble their class in front of a TV screen for the top events, while newspaper front pages carried daily photos of beaming Norwegian athletes clutching their medals- plus the occasional obligatory reminder that bragging is frowned upon.

Aftenposten published an opinion piece last week reproving the nation not to get carried away with its success, and noting it was not so long since the disastrous games of 2006 in Turin, when Norway finished a lowly 13 th in the medal table.” The Swedes will laugh at us again ,” it cautioned.

But with the nation broadcaster NRK losing out to a commercial contender for the rights to the Pyeongchang Games and many Norwegians, unhappy with unaccustomed ad violates in the middle of their wintertime Olympics coverage, turning to dedicated mobile apps instead, the impression has been one of a nation obsessed.

A velocity skating team at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer in 2016. The 1994 Games are credited with inspiring Norway’s athletes. Photograph: JED LEICESTER/ YIS/ IOC/ EPA

Older Norwegians say the atmosphere has rivalled the pre-mobile ardour of the country’s last home games, in Lillehammer in 1994, when the nation was so confused that thieves broke into the National Gallery on the day of the opening ceremony, making off with its version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

There are reasons besides straightforward national pride for such all-consuming interest in the team’s performance: the vast majority of Norwegians either are or have been keen participants in many of the sports they were watching.

The country’s policy of sport-for-all and its emphasis on fun rather than competitor- until they are 13, children are not ranked in sports events- means nearly 93% of children and young adults are active members of one of the country’s 11,000 local sports clubs.

Camilla Larsen, an industrial decorator, said there would doubtless be” huge celebrations” when the record-beating 2018 team- some of whom watched, and many of whom have said they were inspired by, those Lillehammer Olympics- returned home.

“We’re not a big country,” she said,” so even if we were all born with skis on our feet, like the Norwegian saying runs, when we finish ahead of countries like the US and Russia and Germany, we are proud. But also I guess very many of us also know quite well, we feel, what the athletes have gone through. In that sense, they actually represent us.”

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