Have Norwegians become too good at cross-country skiing?

AFP - [email protected]
Have Norwegians become too good at cross-country skiing?
Fans of Norway's Johannes Thingnes Boe celebrates during the victory ceremony in the men's 20km individual biathlon event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games on February 15, 2018, in Pyeongchang. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

Norway's cross-country ski squad wins a huge haul of medals at one Winter Olympics after another – but their success risks undermining the very sport that gave the country its dominance.


The Norwegians are expected to again top the medals table at the Beijing Winter Olympics, but in the Nordic country, fears are mounting about the potentially disastrous consequences of its utter dominance of cross-country skiing.

According to sports statisticians Gracenote, Norway is expected to take home 45 medals in Beijing, including 21 golds -- almost as many as its two closest rivals together, Russia (11) and Germany (12).

That would shatter its record of 39 medals, from Pyeongchang in 2018.

While that kind of success is cause for celebration in the country that invented the words "ski" and "slalom", some see dark clouds on the horizon.

"What is the point of watching sports on television if there's no real competition? If there are three, four or five Norwegians who always finish on top, along with maybe a Finn or Russian in the best of cases, it's extremely boring," Halvor Hegtun, an editorialist at the Aftenposten daily, told AFP.

Hegtun raised the alarm about the total dominance of cross-country skiing in a March 2020 piece headlined: "Norway has to become more mediocre".

He told AFP: "Cross-country skiing, the discipline Norwegians love the most, is in the process of being destroyed by Norway's hegemony, ever since we've gone from being a charming little nation challenging big nations to becoming a crushing superpower"


Because there's a risk other countries may get fed up and stop broadcasting races, quashing interest in the sport and draining it of money and future talent.


In 2019, Russian television stopped airing women's cross-country races, which was seen as a sign of frustration over Therese Johaug's almighty supremacy.

"I try 365 days a year to become a better skier, to progress", said Johaug several months later after another slew of victories.

"And then I'm told that I'm ruining the sport, that there's no suspense.. sometimes it's depressing when you have to defend yourself all the time."

Norway has long been home to legendary skiers, including Bjørn Dæhlie, Petter Northug and Marit Bjørgen who outshone the competition the same way Johaug and men's champion Johannes Klæbo do today. 


Bjørgen, who has the most Winter Olympic medals of any athlete in history, is also "concerned" about the future of her sport.

"It's very important that we have other countries from Central Europe and the rest of the world with us. It's not a good thing if there's only Norway, Sweden and Russia who are interested in the sport", Bjørgen told Swedish agency TT last year.

Global warming is not helping either.

"The less snow there is, the harder it is to recruit", she stressed.

READ ALSO: Norway moves mountains to bring skiing to the people

While they may not be born with skis on their feet, as a local saying goes, Norwegian kids do start skiing very early.

The country of 5.4 million people is home to no less than 1,000 cross-country skiing clubs.

The first king in modern times, Haakon VII, even ensured he was photographed on skis early in his reign to establish his legitimacy among Norwegians. 

Nowadays, Norway's skiing omnipotence is attributed to a mix of individual talent, strong tradition, and money.

"There's a large base of skiers and it's undoubtedly due to the fact that we have oil, we're a rich country", Vegard Ulvang, a star from the 1980s and 1990s, told AFP.


"A lot of us can afford to devote ourselves full-time" to the sport, said Ulvang, who won three golds at the 1992 Winter Olympics. 

In a sign of its resources, the cross-country team has an enormous truck that serves as a mobile waxing station.

Like a Transformer, the trailer unfolds to provide a workspace of 110 square metres and features floor heating, TV screens and a small kitchen.

In fact, sharing Norway's waxing expertise is one of the proposals put forward to help other nations close the gap.

"It's an idea that has crossed many people's minds, because we want the competition to take place on the ski trails and not in the (waxing) cabin", said Ulvang, now in charge of cross-country skiing at the International Ski Federation.

"I really hope that in Beijing, we'll have as many multi-coloured podiums as possible".


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