Norway in the Olympics: Three Norwegian boats qualify for Rio

Photo: Mette Bugge / Aftenposten Kjetil Borch and Olaf Tufte are cleared for the Olympics.

Photo: Mette Bugge / Aftenposten
Kjetil Borch and Olaf Tufte are cleared for the Olympics.

Molly Jones
The Norwegian American

At the 2015 World Rowing Championships in France last fall, a couple of bronze medal finishes from the Norwegians secured the country two boats in the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this August with Are Strandli and Kristoffer Brun succeeding in the lightweight double sculls and Olaf Tufte in the single sculls.

Once the national team determined that the double sculls had a better shot at succeeding in the Olympics than the single sculls, however, the 40-year-old Olympic veteran Tufte decided to compete for a spot in the two-man boat.

The Norwegian is something of a legend in the rowing world, and Rio 2016 will be his seventh trip to the Games. In 1996 he went to his first Olympics in Atlanta at the age of 20 and then went on to earn a silver medal in the double sculls with Fredrik Bekken four years later in Sydney. Tufte then won two gold medals in the single sculls in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008. His performance in London in 2012 was disappointing, however, when he failed to qualify for the final. He therefore decided to continue his career in hopes of yet another Olympic medal.

“There is more pressure to show that the old man is still good enough,” said Tufte to NRK, who expects Rio to be his last Olympics.

In 2013, Kjetil Borch and Nils Jakob Hoff won the gold medal in the double sculls at the World Championships and had expected to compete for a spot in the Olympics together. But Tufte’s decision to switch from the single sculls resulted in 31-year-old Hoff losing his spot on the boat.

“We have completed a number of test races lately, and Olaf and Kjetil were victorious. In addition, we have seen the greatest stability from them over time,” says the national team coach Johan Flodin of the decision.

“Last fall we already did an assessment of which boat seemed to be our strongest, and the double sculls was the one we pointed to. That is why we have now placed our best rowers there,” he adds.

The boat still had to qualify for the Olympics, however, and the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland, was held May 22 to 24 and marked the last chance for Norwegian boats to qualify for Rio.

In order to secure a spot, Tufte and 26-year-old Borch had to get at least second place. They advanced to the final after winning the qualification race with a time of 6:12.45. But the final was a tough race, and the Norwegians trailed behind the Serbian team of Marko Marjanovic and Andrija Sljukic throughout the first half. Tufte and Borch fought hard during the second half, however, to catch up and win by two seconds with a time of 6:14.04. Norway and Serbia therefore earned the final two spots in the double sculls race, while the third-place Czech team of Michal Plocek and Matyas Klang just barely missed the mark by 0.59 seconds.

“It’s hard, and it’s also hard mentally. There was so damn much at stake—it’s all or nothing. The last day has been tough,” said Borch of the qualification.

While Tufte and Borch have only had a limited amount of time to train together, their success in Lucerne shows that they have made good use of their training the past few months.

“It would have been ideal to have at least one year together in the boat, but we have not, so we must seize every opportunity we get together, and I think we’ve been good at that,” says Tufte.

Norway’s quadruple sculls team of Nils Jakob Hoff, Martin Helseth, Erik Solbakken, and Jan Helvig also competed in Lucerne for their last chance at a spot in the Olympics. The Norwegians ended fifth in the repechage, however, with Russia and Canada eventually earning the two coveted tickets to Rio.

Since Tufte had now qualified for the double sculls with Borch, Norway had to fill the single sculls position. On May 28, six Norwegians—including three from the quadruple sculls team—competed in two heats in Årungen to determine who would take his spot.

Hoff was the clear winner in the first heat of the day, winning by five seconds ahead of Helseth. While Helseth took the victory in the second heat, the margin was small enough that Hoff still lead the day by four seconds.

Hoff therefore earned his way back to the 2016 Olympics, but he notes that he doesn’t know what to expect since he has not competed in single sculls internationally for six or seven years.

“I have no idea what I can achieve. I was very good in single sculls few years ago, but then I had to sacrifice a lot of my own technique to adapt to those that I rowed with. So I do not know what my own potential is. But I am in better shape than ever and very excited to find out what I can accomplish,” said Hoff.

With three Norwegian boats and five rowers in the running, Norway is hopeful that the team will come home from Rio with a medal or two.

This article originally appeared in the June 17, 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.