The secrets to Norway’s Olympic success

In Feed the Flame, Paul Stuart traverses Norway to learn what puts the country on top

Norwegian athletes on the podium at the Olympics.

Photo: Harry How / Getty Images
Norway’s women (Marit Bjørgen, center; Therese Johaug, left; and Kristin Størmer Steira, right) took all three medals in the cross country 30K mass start free in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Molly Jones
The Norwegian American

It’s a well-known fact that Norway is the most decorated country in the Winter Olympics—the country has taken 329 winter medals, after all. With one medal for about every 11,000 people, Norway is also the nation with the most Olympic medals per capita. But what is it the key to Norway’s Olympic success? In a recent episode of Feed the Flame, a show produced by the Olympic Channel, host Paul Stuart aims to answer that very question.

“I’ve come to Norway to find out what motivates the young athletes trying to keep the winning streak alive,” he said. He traveled around the country, meeting with individuals from a variety of backgrounds and industries, to discover more about Norwegian athletes and the programs that fuel their success.

Of course, nutrition plays a crucial role in any athlete’s success. To learn about the food that nourishes the country’s Olympians, Stuart met up with Ina Garthe, the Head of the Sports Nutrition Program at the Norwegian Olympic Sports Center.

“With athletes, you have to hold them back. You have to make sure they are not pushing the limits. They just want to do everything. We are really concerned about their diet—that they are covering every need to maintain muscle mass and to keep them full,” said Garthe. “Their performance will go down if they don’t manage to cover all their needs.”

Garthe also explains that a specific program must be developed for each and every athlete depending on their needs and their sport. For example, a cross-country skier consumes 10,000 calories per day—four times that of a ski jumper.

Norway is also known for some unique foods that distinguish it from other countries. In addition to an abundance of fish, a crucial element of a healthy diet, another popular staple is brunost. Talking with Hege Thorson Nordskar, a farmer of the infamous brown cheese, Stuart asked if all Norwegian athletes eat brunost.

“Yeah, I think so. I think they need to have it,” she replied. “They put it in a bag and bring it to all the countries they go because they need this brown cheese. Because there’s lots of energy in it.”

To get a first-hand look at the experience of one of Norway’s prominent winter athletes, Stuart met up with Anders Fannemel. The ski jumper holds the world record with a record of 251.5 meters, but right now his focus is on the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games.

In order to make the team, Fannemel has to continue to compete on a high level, staying in the top five all the way up to the Olympics. “Your motivation has to be 100 percent because if you’re not doing your best, you have no chance,” he says. Even though he already holds the world record, Fannemel admits that taking individual medals at the Olympics is his ultimate goal.

The same is true for countless young athletes around Norway. And many of these athletes are gathered at the Meråker School in Nord-Trøndelag, a school attended by one fifth of Norway’s Olympians. At Meråker, students train outside every day from morning to lunch and then have lessons in the afternoon. They are expected to take an active, independent role in their own training and must find out what works the best for themselves in order to plan their own training programs.

“The best feeling is that we have this freedom. To be out in nature and not inside a gym, for example. It just makes me smile. It’s freedom for me,” said Maren Sagland, a young cross-country skier at the school who dreams of becoming a world champion or Olympic champion someday.

With a new batch of young athletes preparing to become Olympians, it’s no question why Norway continues to dominate the Winter Olympics.

“The nation’s pride, coupled with fierce self-determination, is what makes the people resourceful and their athletes formidable,” concludes Stuart.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 1, 2017, 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.