Excerpts from wsj.com: How Norway Scores So Much Olympic Gold?
…Norway itself is a Winter Olympics marvel: With only five million people, it has won 303 Winter Olympic medals, far more than any other country on the planet. To find a country smaller than world-leading Norway on the all-time Winter Olympics medal table, you have to travel down to Croatia, which ranks 24th with 11 medals. And this month, Norway is fielding one of its strongest teams in almost two generations, with some experts considering it the favorite to win both the highest gold and total medal count, a feat that it last achieved in 1968.
Other countries long ago took to shrugging off Norway’s Winter Olympics medal haul as the unsurprising inheritance of a people whose young are born with skis on their feet, as an old Nordic adage goes. But skiing is also fundamental to the culture of other Scandinavian countries, including Sweden, which has about twice the population but, with 132 total, not even half the medals.
Instead, many experts think the answer lies in the culture and lifestyle of the country, where an extraordinary egalitarianism runs through youth sports. Before age 6, Norwegian kids can only train but not formally compete in sports, and before age 11, all children participating in a competition must be awarded the same prize.
Still, most experts say the biggest reason behind Norway’s success is the culture that propelled it atop the medal table from the outset. Norway’s cities are relatively close to the wilderness, and children are encouraged to play outdoors even on the coldest days.
In those disciplines, attaining world-class status typically takes years of training. This is one reason that the Meråker school accepts students whose passion for sport may outshine their performances. In the long run, desire and perseverance will play the greatest roles in shaping future Olympians. The school’s coaches say the main lesson they teach is the importance of training relentlessly for years beyond high school.
In addition to physical work on the farm in the afternoons, weekends and holidays, he was regularly charged with what his father refers to as “incredibly boring stuff,” like picking stones from a field, just to improve his psyche. Every time he hurt himself, his father would tease him until he stopped crying. Eventually, he came to believe pain is cool. “My father taught me at an early age to tackle pain—I think that’s my strength. I can go for hours in pain without giving up,” he said. His childhood mentor, a star skier turned coach named John Thomas Rena, agrees. “I think a big part of Jenssen’s talent comes from the way he grew up,” he said.
Image Credit: Best and Worst Dressed Olympic Nations in Sochi