Norway is indisputably the Winter Olympics powerhouse: though it has a population of only five million, it has won far more medals than any other country. Even among other Scandinavian countries with ski cultures, Norway trumps all (Sweden, for example, has nearly twice the population, but not even half the medals of Norway).
So, what gives, Norway?
Experts point to several factors:
For one, Norway’s cities are typically close to wilderness, skiing is considered a reasonable mode of transportation (how quaint!), and there is a heavy cultural emphasis on children playing outdoors year-round. (By contrast, Sweden’s major population centers are farther from wilderness areas, and Swedes play more indoor sports in the winter.)
Also, there is a major emphasis on egalitarianism in the country’s youth sports—all children are awarded the same prize for competition participation. It may seem counterintuitive, but this helps to foster a larger, inclusive youth base.
Another factor: You guessed it—$$$. Norway has the fourth largest per capita GDP in the world (thank you, oil fields), and its economy provides plenty of high-paying jobs by which its citizens can afford the equipment and free time to go skiing. Also, elite athletes benefit from the country’s relatively large budget set aside for supporting Olympic competitors. (Image: commons.wikimedia.com)
Norway also specializes in some Olympic events that have little competition. Most of the world isn’t mighty interested in cross-country skiing and biathlon (skiing plus sharpshooting), and Norway mostly competes against just four other European countries in these metal-heavy events.
For the 2014 games, Norway is expected to have one of its strongest field of contenders to date, so don’t be surprised to see Norwegian sweeping up the medals. But hey—they aren’t nearly so good at the Summer Olympics, so don’t feel too threatened. (Image: commons.wikimedia.org)