A sporting chance for research

Profiles of Norwegian science

sports science - volleyball in Oslo

Photo: Ilan Kelman
Recreational volleyball in Oslo.

Ilan Kelman
Agder, Norway

It’s winter! Which hopefully means snow. And with snow comes skiing, recreational and competitive, along with the science that helps all athletes and athlete-wannabees.

One recent paper co-written by the School of Sport Sciences in Tromsø predicted performance in cross-county ski racing based on terrain steepness and skiing techniques used. A chapter from the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center investigated injuries incurred by volleyball players.

Sports science around Norway represents wonderfully interdisciplinary research, with impressive contributions over the years. Fluid mechanics, experimental physics, and computer science were combined at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim to test soccer balls spinning in the wind. The results advise players on how to improve their free kicks.

On the medical side, researchers looked at young athletes dying of heart problems while playing sports in Norway. Almost all were men and they died mainly from heart attacks. While many cases might not have been avoidable, this work’s value is clear regarding everyone learning first aid and having regular medical checkups. Similarly, a long series of studies considers risk factors for and prevention of shoulder injuries in Norwegian handball players.

Researchers explain how large sporting events such as the Olympics and Paralympics, which Norway has run twice (the winter games in 1952 and 1994), typically lose money for the hosts. This does not stop the political arguments for bringing the world to one’s doorstep—and the political arguments against it. In 2013, a referendum in Oslo supported the city’s bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Just over a year later, the national government declined to support the bid, which was subsequently withdrawn.

Sports science runs the gamut from engineering to sociology and from medicine to history. It is not just for those famous, elite, medal-gathering, commercially advantageous athletes; it also contributes to us all.

Papers from Norwegian researchers highlight social and political factors influencing youth participation in sports around Norway. Government policy, especially for education, has a strong impact in supporting the country’s sporting life. Arguments are also given that Norway’s comparative affluence and equity support the cultural interest in sports, through outdoors activities and facilities for indoor recreation.

For those of us not athletic enough to be heading for international competitions, Norwegian sports studies reveal a variety of reasons for participating in and supporting sports. When local soccer referees were asked why they got involved, fitness scored highly. Surfing on the seas and BASE jumping around Norway contribute to the country’s domestic and international tourism industry. One study in Oslo over 17 years included sport as part of social participation that helped participants to live longer.

Ultimately, the data say, sports for the general population are about fun, friends, and fitness. They nonetheless benefit from the materials science that goes into designing footwear and the nutrition science supporting dietary choices.

This is the work to which sports scientists in Norway contribute and to which their students aspire. The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences (NIH) at the northwest end of T-bane line 5 in Oslo offers studies for bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Farther north, bachelor’s and master’s in sport sciences are also offered by NTNU and by the Arctic University of Norway (UiT), which uses Tromsø and Alta as its bases. All these institutes proffer doctorate work as well.

The graduates can use their skills and science to help the amateurs and professionals, for recreation and competition. After all, the 45th Alpine World Ski Championships in Sweden are underway, followed closely by the Nordic World Ski Championships in Austria. All the best to Norway’s athletes—with thanks to the science and scientists backing them!

This article originally appeared in the February 8, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Ilan Kelman

Ilan Kelman is Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, England, and Professor II at the University of Agder, Norway. His overall research interest is linking disasters and health, including the integration of climate change into disaster research and health research. Follow him at www.ilankelman.org and @ILANKELMAN on Twitter and Instagram.