Norway predicts seven medals

Norway in the Paralympics

2018 Paralympic Games - Birgit Skarstein

Photo: Arbeiderpartiet / Flickr
In addition to being a Paralympic skier, Birgit Skarstein is also a competitive rower and a city council representative in Oslo municipality.

Jo Christian Weldingh
Oslo

Olympiatoppen, the Norwegian confederation of sports, are optimistic heading into the 2018 Paralympic Games. Their goal is to win seven medals, three more than they won in Sochi four years ago.

The 12th Paralympic Winter Games are being held in Pyeongchang from March 9 to March 18. The events will, just like in the Olympics, be arranged at two locations: a mountain cluster, where the outdoor events will take place, and a coastal cluster for the indoor events. The games will consist of six sports, with 80 events combined.

The Norwegian team comprises 30 athletes competing in all six sports: para-cross-country-skiing, para-biathlon, para-ice-hockey, para-curling, para-Alpine-skiing, and—for the first time for any Norwegian athlete—para-snowboard.

“We think it’s realistic to aim for seven medals, even though it’s pretty close to our maximal potential,” Norwegian paralympic general and former paralympic medal winner, Cato Zahl Pedersen replied when asked about the fact that they expect to almost double the number of medals compared to Sochi 2014.

Zahl Pedersen thinks the results so far this season speak in favor of their optimistic outlook. “We’ve been on the podium in cross-country skiing; our para-curling team, who have a new coach, is better than it has ever been before; and the para-hockey team has improved a lot the last couple of years and will be fighting for a medal, for sure.”

Para-cross-country athlete Birgit Skarstein might be Norway’s greatest gold-medal contender. She won two medals in last year’s World Championship even though she has only been competing for a couple of years. Skarstein is a well-known public figure in Norway and has been recognized for her social and political commitments.

In addition to the good results achieved by Norwegian para-athletes earlier this season, the Russian doping scandal is another reason behind the Norwegian optimism, especially in cross-country skiing, a sport Russia has been dominating for years. Norwegian para-cross-country hopeful Håkon Olsrud feels ambivalent about the Russian suspension. “It’s sad that Russia won’t be able to compete, being the biggest and most successful nation, but on the other hand, I’m sure there’s a reason behind IPC’s (International Paralympic Committee) suspicion,” he says. “To be selfish, it improves my own chances for a medal, but ideally everyone would be present, competing on equal terms.”

2018 Paralympic Games: Håkon Olsrud

Photo: Skiforbundet.no
Norwegian para-cross-country hopeful Håkon Olsrud skis at the World Cup in 2015.

Russia was the best Paralympic nation in Sochi by a big margin, winning 30 gold medals. Germany, in second place, won nine.

Sports for athletes with an impairment have existed for more than 100 years and were featured in the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, but it wasn’t introduced to a wider audience until after World War II, as a way to reintroduce gravely injured war veterans into society.

At the opening ceremony of the 1948 London Olympics, the first competition for wheelchair athletes was held. Called the Stoke Mandeville Games, it involved 16 injured servicemen and women who competed in archery. These games later evolved into the Paralympic Games, which first took place in Rome in 1960, featuring 400 athletes from 23 countries. Since then it has taken place every four years.

In 1976, the first-ever Winter Paralympic Games were held in Sweden and, like the Summer Paralympics, has taken place every four years since.

Ever since the Olympic Games in 1988 and 1992, in Seoul, South Korea, and Albertville, France, respectively, the Paralympics have also been held in the same cities and venues as the Olympics.

Norway has sent athletes to all the Paralympic Games since the start in 1960, except the second Summer Games in 1964, and has hosted the games twice, in Geilo in 1980 and in Lillehammer in 1994. With a total of 319 medals, Norway is the third most successful nation in the history of the Paralympic Games, behind Germany and Austria, and has topped the medal chart on four occasions: 1980, 1988, 1994, and 1998.

Notable Norwegian athletes include Ragnhild Myklebust, who won medals in every event she has ever participated: cross-country skiing, ice sledge speed racing, and biathlon. Between 1988 and 2002, she won 27 medals, of which 22 were gold, 3 silver, and 2 bronze. Pedersen, who won 13 gold and one silver in several different sports, and Erling Trondsen, who competed in swimming from 1976 to 1992, winning 20 gold medals, are also Paralympics stars.

This article originally appeared in the March 9, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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