Norway in the Olympics: Røe Skaar’s road to Rio

Photo: Olav Olsen / Aftenposten Tina Røe Skaar has secured a spot in the Rio Olympics after having had ME and mononucleosis.

Photo: Olav Olsen / Aftenposten
Tina Røe Skaar has secured a spot in the Rio Olympics after having had ME and mononucleosis.

Molly Jones
The Norwegian American

As the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are quickly approaching, many are looking to Tina Røe Skaar as one of Norway’s top medal contenders.

The 22-year-old taekwondo fighter from Romerike is known for overcoming adversity and using her tough experiences to become a better, stronger athlete, and she plans to use this strength to her advantage in Rio.

“What she’s extremely good at is the ability to zero in such that she can blank out any ‘baggage’ she’s carrying about the past. This means she’s able to turn situations that many people would fear into something positive. She rises to the occasion,” says Norway’s national taekwondo coach David Cook to Scandinavian Traveler.

While Røe Skaar has been practicing taekwondo since the age of nine, a severe illness put her training on hold; at the age of 14, she began feeling very sick, sometimes for weeks at a time. When her illness escalated, she ended up in the hospital and was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome. She also learned that she had recently had mononucleosis.

At this point in her life, just getting out of bed was hard, and Røe Skaar ended up bedridden.

“Sometimes I could barely walk; I crawled around the house. As I lay there, I did not think that I would get where I am now. Everything seemed hopeless,” she said to Aftenposten.

She not only faced the physical pain but also struggled with social problems due to her illness.

“ME is tricky because it’s hard to diagnose. You can’t take a blood test to see that you have it. There’s plenty of skepticism that you are actually malingering. I lost many friends when I was ill, and because of this I was subjected to bullying at school. Training meant everything to me,” she explained to Scandinavian Traveler.

After two and a half years of suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, Røe Skaar began to feel better after taking a Lighting Process course. She carefully began to return to her taekwondo training at the age of 17, and soon she was back at the top.

“I had regained my life,” she says to Scandinavian Traveler. “Twelve months later I was picked for the national team, and since then it has been about gradually getting better and better, of trying to see how good I can be.”

Just a year after recovering, Røe Skaar won the Norwegian championships, and a few years later she became a full-time athlete and devoted herself to training for Rio.

The Korean martial art of taekwondo first became an Olympic medal sport in 2000, and millions of taekwondo fighters now compete for the coveted 128 spots in the Olympics.

The Norwegian fought for her place in the +67 kg class at the 2016 European Taekwondo Olympic Qualification Tournament in Istanbul on January 16.

She easily won her first match 6-0 against Turkish Nafia Kus and then just barely edged out Russian Olga Ivanova 1-0 in the semifinals. She then defeated Reshmie Oogink of the Netherlands 4-1 in the finals to win her class in the tournament and become the fourth female Norwegian taekwondo fighter in history to qualify for the Olympics. On May 30, she officially earned her ticket to Rio as one of the 35 athletes in Olympiatoppen’s first selection.

Leading up to the Olympics, Røe Skaar plans to use the same routine that led to her qualification. She also hopes to spend a couple of days relaxing in Portugal or Spain to help her get into the right frame of mind.

She will be competing in Rio 16 years after Trude Gundersen won Norway’s first silver medal in Sydney and eight years after Nina Solheim won the second in Beijing. Just like her predecessors, Røe Skaar is expected to make Norway proud.

“Qualification is really hard, and if you manage that then you have every opportunity in Rio. I try to convince myself of that. Gold is certainly not impossible. I am very excited,” says Røe Skaar.

This article originally appeared in the July 15, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.