Norwegians take eight medals in Rio Paralympics
The Norwegian American
Just a few weeks after Norway’s Olympic squad brought home a disappointing four bronze medals, 25 Norwegians headed to Rio de Janeiro to compete in the 2016 Paralympic Games. From September 7 to 18, the athletes competed in 39 medal events in 10 different sports: archery, athletics, boccia, cycling, equestrian dressage, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming, and table tennis.
The top medal contenders heading into Rio were considered to be swimmers Sarah Louise Rung and Andreas Bjørnstad, rower Birgit Skarstein, sailor Bjørnar Erikstad, Tommy Urhaug in table tennis, and Ann Cathrin Lübbe in equestrian dressage.
Erikstad, a four-time Paralympian who competes in 2.4mR sailing, had the honor of carrying the Norwegian flag into the opening ceremony.
“When it became clear that the sailors would attend the opening ceremony, the choice was obvious. Bjørnar is a veteran of the Paralympics and a solid representative of the culture who always contributes positively in the Norwegian squad,” said Olympiatoppen’s Chef de Mission, Cato Zahl Pedersen.
“It was very nice to be asked,” says Erikstad. “It is an honor to carry the flag in front of the Norwegian team, so this is something I’m looking forward to.”
Throughout the Games, the Norwegian Paralympians ended up surpassing the results from the Olympics, taking eight medals: three gold, two silver, and three bronze.
Five medals for Sarah Louise Rung
The clear star of the squad was 26-year-old swimmer Sarah Louise Rung.
On the first day of competition, Rung—who went into the Games with the goal of earning five medals—took Norway’s first medal, a bronze, in the 200-meter freestyle. Li Zhang of China took the gold ahead of Spanish Teresa Perales in silver.
Two days later, Rung managed to make it to the final of the 50-meter butterfly following one of the worst swims in her career in the qualifying heat to take the silver behind Chinese Xihan Xu.
In the 100-meter breaststroke the next day, Rung dominated from the start. With a time of 1:44.94, Rung beat second-place Giulia Ghiretti of Italy by over five seconds to take her first gold in Rio.
Keeping the momentum going, Rung crushed her competition in the 200-meter medley on Sept. 15. Her time of 3:15.83 was a personal best and over 20 seconds ahead of Perales in second place.
On Sept. 16, the Norwegian impressed everyone when she earned her fifth medal—an unanticipated bronze in the 50-meter backstroke. She finished what is considered to be her best race yet in 45.40, behind Czech Bela Trebinova in second and Perales in first.
“It is wonderful. The Paralympics have been a lot tougher than I expected them to be, and I struggled a bit in the competition, but I still managed to take five medals, and I’m very happy with that,” she told Aftenposten.
To recognize her outstanding success and major contribution to Norway’s medal count, Rung was chosen to carry the Norwegian flag during the closing ceremony on Sept. 18.
Emotional wins for Ann Cathrin Lübbe
Twelve years after earning her first Paralympic gold in Athens, 45-year-old Ann Cathrin Lübbe took the gold in the equestrian grade III individual championship test in Rio along with horse Donatello.
“Now I am just incredibly satisfied. I am very proud of Donatello,” said Lübbe, who earned a score of 72.878 from the judges and was joined on the podium by Susanne Sunesen of Denmark in silver and Louise Etzner Jakobsson of Sweden in bronze.
The achievement was especially emotional for Lübbe this time around; Donatello had originally belonged to her student, Mina Skogheim, who died in a traffic accident in 2013 at the age of 18. Skogheim’s dream had been to take Donatello to the Olympics, so instead of selling the horse, her parents gave the horse to Lübbe.
“Her parents are here,” said Lübbe. “It means everything. It’s so important to me.”
In the grade III individual freestyle test, Lübbe impressed once again, even exceeding her own expectations. With 73.800 points, she was just .050 behind gold-medal winner Sanne Voets of the Netherlands.
“This is so much better than what I had expected. I am so proud of Donatello and I am actually quite proud of myself as well,” she said.
Andreas Bjørnstad earns bronze
In his Paralympic debut, 19-year-old Andreas Bjørnstad set a PR of almost five seconds on the 400-meter freestyle, taking a bronze with his time of 4:53.61.
Michael Jones and Jonathan Fox from Great Britain took the gold and silver, respectively.
“This means everything. We have worked for this for so long and so many have been there for it,” said Bjørnstad.
Pedersen was impressed with the young swimmer’s performance. “This shows that we have more than Sarah Louise Rung to count on. Andreas will be very important in the next four years leading up to the Paralympics in Tokyo,” he said.
Even though the Paralympic team didn’t manage to near their 15 medals from the 2000 Sydney Games—as Pedersen had hoped—they certainly managed to make Norway proud with strong performances by rookies and veterans alike.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 7, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.