The fact that I have avoided blogging about the Olympics earlier is a miracle. I am Norwegian, after all. Winter Olympics to a Norwegian is like… wine to a Frenchman. Pasta to an Italian. Or electronics to a Japanese. It is HUGE, and everyone, whether they like it or not, is affected by it. Our government financed television company is broadcasting from Vancouver 24/7 in two of its three channels. Our papers have ceased to be newspapers. Now they are exclusively sportpapers. The entire country is on a first-name basis with Petter, Ole-Einar, Marit and Emil. And if you try to initiate a conversation whose subject isn’t the Olympics, you are scorned and quite possibly deported.
Now, make no mistakes. Just any part of the Olympics won’t do. Hockey? Well, no. Norway’s team was, for the first time in a while, actually playing this year. But they are long gone by now, after having lost spectacularly to the US and Canada, to name a few. Bobsleigh? Nah… I don’t think we’ve ever cared about that. Figure skating? Not since Sonja Henie, and she lost her momentum in the 1930s (and her credibility during the German occupation of Norway, but that is another story). Speed skating? Unless it’s short track, you won’t be deported for talking about it, but they won’t give you any medals either. Why? Because Norway isn’t winning any medals (or at least not as many as we expected). Granted, speed skating has been big in Norway, but with this year’s poor performances, it’s not likely to become all that popular again anytime soon.
What matters in this country are sports that require skis. After all, Norwegians are said to be born with skis on their feet. Anatomically impossible as this may be, skiing definitely is a big deal here. Any given Norwegian will be able to inform you of the benefits and disadvantages of different types of waxes; they will be able to tell you (and frequently show you) the difference between classic and skate skiing; and the question “do you ski?” will be met with a laugh and then disbelief if revealed that you actually mean it. Of course we ski. We are Norwegians.
So far in the Olympic Games in Vancouver, Norway has won 8 gold medals, 6 silver and 6 bronze. If my count is correct (and trust me, we are informed of absolutely ALL the medals we win, so I should know), 19 of them has been won by people who, one way or other, had skis on their feet. The 20th was by a skater. Speed skating, if there was any doubt, and it was “only” a bronze medal, so nobody made much fuzz about it (we were hoping for gold).
Of course this is complete and absolute bonking rubbish. Yes, Norway puts a lot of money and effort into sports, and it is therefore expected that we also receive good results. But for snow’s sake – a silver medal in an Olympic competition is a good result. We can’t always win. It is crucial that we keep in mind what is important – that Sweden is ranking below Norway on the medal statistics. They were giving us a scare in the beginning of the games (Sweden – keep your IKEA and Volvo, but let us win the gold medals in skiing!), but by now normality is restored (they also have Saab).
Finally, a little seriousness towards the end. While I can accept that Norway is performing only almost best, or mediocre, or even badly; I find it a lot harder to accept that some of the athletes are handling their losses badly (and occasionally their victories, but this is a smaller pill to swallow). Acting like a cranky three-year-old, blaming the ski wax team (yes, there is a ski wax team…) for your failure makes me think you have some issues yourself. Refusing to talk to the media because you are disappointed is not okay. I get the disappointment part, but talking to the media is also a part of your job, even when you’re failing. What makes the Olympics so special are, after all, not just the magnificent sport performances, but the outstanding sportsmen and –women. As we enter the next Olympiad (the four years between the Olympic Games, in case you didn’t know), there is something certain of the participating athletes, and certain sports commentators ought to practice more carefully: There is a little something called “Olympic spirit” and “sportsmanship” that means more than winning. It also means acting like a winner. Even when you’re losing.