DAEGWALLYEONG, South Korea — If you surmise that your Olympic nation is as strong or as cool as Norway, then you are suffering some sort of delusion. In your defense, it’s not like the Norwegians sit around up at the 59th parallel crowing about being the greatest. They just come to the harder, hardier version of Olympics, the Winter Games, bring along their majestic lungs and return home with medals by bushels.
They probably pay the odd baggage fee.
They have merely 5.3 million citizens yet a global all-time lead with 329 winter medals, making them a medals-per-capita Godzilla. In the first Winter Olympics, they led the medal table in Chamonix, France, in 1924, and in the most recent Winter Olympics, they finished third in medals and tied for first in golds in Sochi, Russia, in 2014. (And they might yet pull ahead in those latter charts, given they tied with doping-scandalized Russia.) Their past six Olympiads saw them finish first, second, third, sixth (in their big bummer of 2006 in Italy), fourth and third, with medal counts of 26, 25, 25, 19, 23 and 26.
This time, they’re talking, in calm, matter-of-fact tones, about outdoing themselves with 30.
Their chef de mission, Tore Ovrebo, who is cooler than your chef de mission, said without fanfare: “The aim is to have fun, and be as good friends when we go back as when we came here. In the meantime, we are hoping for 30 medals.” Translated into Norwegian, that means: We want to be your friend and strafe your sorry, limp-lunged rear end. Recent Associated Press projections had the Norwegians at 39 medals, 19 gold, without even including any medals for the 21-year-old cross-country star who is the talk of the big-little country, Johannes Hosflot Klaebo.
Biathlete Ole Einar Bjorndalen, 44, owns a Winter Olympic-record 13 medals, and cross-country skier Petter Northug, 32, won four at Vancouver in 2010.
Neither made this team.
At Norway’s Holmenkollen Ski Museum, one might learn the old saying that Norwegians are “born with skis on their feet,” revealing the extraordinary toughness of Norwegian women, able to birth both babies and large sporting equipment simultaneously. Norwegian ski expertise found an epitome this past Jan. 27, when the police in Kongsberg tweeted that they “had to take care of a very inebriated man on skis in the center of Kongsberg,” whereupon they also lampooned his technique: “It was clearly neither classic nor cross country.”
One Norwegian mother, the pulmonary powerhouse Marit Bjoergen, finds her fifth Olympics in cross-country here, having won a silver at Salt Lake City in 2002, a silver at Turin in 2006, three golds, a silver and a bronze at Vancouver in 2010 and three golds in Sochi in 2014. That made 10, the number she took to her final Olympics with her 37-year-old body that gave birth in 2015 to both a son and, presumably, the attached skis.
On Thursday here, she walked with three teammates into a school gymnasium, beneath the glass basketball backboards, as photographers followed her from one baseline to the other.
“My experience from previous championships makes me calm and reflective,” she said, “so the pressure on me is a bit lower than my first Olympics. I feel like this is just another ski run, like all the other ones. So I’ll keep calm.” And: “It is of course tougher and tougher for me to compete in the top.”
On Saturday here, she won silver in the 15-kilometer skiathlon, and her 11 medals now make her the most decorated female Winter Olympian ever.
Multiple medals could go to Bjoergen, to biathlete Johannes Boe, to Alpine skier Aksel Lund Svindal, to cross-country skiers Heidi Weng and Martin Johnsrud Sundby, the latter two years removed from his two-month doping suspension of 2016, which involved taking excessive asthma medication, a charge often leveled at the Norwegian athletes, as in a recent Swedish documentary. Said Bjoergen, “It’s not fun to be accused, but for me personally, who has been in the game for a long time, and as long as we as athletes know what we have done, and what we stand for, I don’t think any of us will use a lot of time on it.”
That 30-medal bit has been ascertained carefully.
“And there are also sports like speedskating,” Ovrebo said, “that have been out of the medal tally for a while that is probably coming back, if you see what we have done so far this season and in past years. So I think that it’s because we are better as a nation, and then we should raise the bar, too. It’s important to make sure that everybody understands that this goal is something that we have created together with the sports. They have been involved all the time.
“It started two years ago, discussions, how many medals each sport can plan and hope for. And then we have made a sum. And then we do some quality work on that sum. Something is dreams, and something is real goals. And then after we have done this, there was a huge commitment to this common goal. But if you ask all the athletes, one by one, in all the sports, the number will be higher. I think that 30 is quite a lot, and we will be very happy if we achieve that.”
In charming downtown Daegwallyeong, they are ensconced in a hotel Norway booked almost entirely. They are hunkered in, hoping not to mingle with the viruses and whatnot going around. They have a Norwegian chef in a bid to simulate home. There did come a mix-up when, at one point, they ordered 1,500 eggs and received 15,000.
That has handled, of course, with aplomb.
“So there was an extra zero on the order,” Ovrebo said. “So from fifteen hundred to fifteen thousand, that’s . . .”
He hunted for the words.
“S--- happens,” he said.
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