Thursday, February 25, 2010

The mystery of Norway

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway competes during the men's giant slalom. Getty Images

Medal Count

 United States791228
 Russian Federation34613
 South Korea54110
Full Medals Table
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As of 24 February 2010

Vancouver, British Columbia -- By the end of these Olympic Games, the Norwegians will have pulled off what is, arguably, one of the finest performances in the modern history of sports. The only problem is that nobody outside Norway seems to take them seriously.

Ignoring them, or jealous of them? The US media is preoccupied with US athletes, though it does find a story or two to milk that is not of an US athlete.

Norway's Olympic team has won 17 medals in Vancouver so far, enough to place it third overall and only one gold medal behind the leaders. The country grabbed three medals Tuesday, including silver and bronze, respectively, for Kjeitil Jansrud and Aksel Svindal in the men's giant slalom. The haul is expected to continue throughout this final week.

Norway has won more Winter Games medals than any other nation. Last week it became the first country to win 100 Olympic gold medals, and Tuesday it hit the 300-medal milestone (the U.S. is second on the all-time list with dozens fewer.)

What makes its performance hard to fathom, however, is that Norway has only 4.7 million people to choose from. It's as if the American team finished third in Vancouver after limiting the athlete pool to people living in metropolitan Detroit. To find a country smaller than Norway, you have to travel down the medals table to Latvia, which is tied for 18th with two medals.

The Norwegian obsession with the Winter Games is nearly unbridled. When biathlon aired in Norway during prime time one recent evening, 1.75 million households tuned in, according to Mr. Lea. "There's a lot of pressure on us," he says After those first four days, Norway roared back, winning medals of every color in the sports it cares about most—cross country, biathlon, ski jumping and alpine skiing.

1.75 million of 4.7 is  37% of the country's population; shows the US population as of 25 February 2010 to be 308,756,226; 37% would be 114,962,424 (more than watched the Super Bowl? or roughly equivalent).

Not that they've been bragging or anything. After crossing the finish line Tuesday, Mr. Jansrud didn't beat his chest or pump his fist or mug for the international TV feed—instead he took two deep bows to his applauding countrymen.

 Alien to North Americans.

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