Norwegian sports fans had a golden start to the day on Sunday, when Kjetil Jansrud from Vinstra in Gudbrandsdalen skied what many called a “perfect” race to win the Super-G at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but then things went downhill indeed. By the end of the day, Norwegian sports commentators and athletes were decidedly humbled, after gold medal favorites bombed out once again.
So much for the international press that had claimed Norway “owned” the Winter Olympics, and for the Norwegians themselves who expected to dominate many events. Only one thing was certain: Norwegian athletic powers-that-be vowed there’d be a full probe into why so many of their winter sports stars are suddenly performing way below expectation.
Jansrud was the encouraging exception, plunging down the Super-G course in a breathless one-minute and 18.4 seconds, decidedly ahead of Andrew Weibrecht of the US in a racing world where the measurement of time takes on a whole new meaning. Weibrecht took the silver after skiing the race in a minute and 18.44 seconds, while Jan Hudec of Canada and Bode Miller of the US shared the bronze with a time of exactly 1:18.67 each.
Again, though, a much-hailed favourite failed to perform as expected. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal ended up seventh in the race, but characteristically praised Jansrud and said he was mightily impressed by Jansrud’s “raw” talent on the course. He was less impressed by Jansrud’s determined recovery from serious injury last season, telling state broadcaster NRK that he and other members of the Norwegian team had expected him to make a strong comeback. “If we had doubted him, we would have been the world’s worst teammates,” Svindal said. “Of course he had to ski fast.”
That’s exactly what the Norwegian men’s cross-country team failed to do later in the day, when they placed a lowly fourth in the popular relay event under spring-skiing conditions, which ran in four segments of 10 kilometers each. Norway’s second stunning relay loss in as many days followed the women’s humiliation on Saturday, and was once again blamed not on the cross-country skiers themselves but on the crews preparing their skis. The Norwegian team trailed the dominant Swedes, who won gold, followed by Russia in second place and France in third.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported that Norway’s “waxing project,” known for being housed in huge, gaudily decorated trailers that follow the skiers to their international competitions, has cost NOK 25 million and was supposed to help the skiers glide to victory.
Instead, NRK’s commentators were consulting dictionaries to find all possible synonyms for “fiasco,” while others were wondering whether Swedish King Carl Gustaf would once again tease Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon by whacking him on the head with a rolled-up program while sitting in the royal booth, like he’d done during competition on Friday. Just like on Saturday, it was the Swedish relay team that crossed the finish line first on Sunday, and that’s especially hard for the Norwegians to take.
Some feel the “waxing fiasco” may be healthy reality jolt for a skiing nation accustomed to winning. The Norwegian athletes “need to learn how to lose,” suggested on Aftenposten commentator. In the meantime, those in charge of preparing the skiers’ skis were being deluged with questions and promising a new start.
Curling team wins reprieve
In other Olympic events, the men’s curling team has also been humbled by losses but scored an important victory over Switzerland late in the day. That keeps them in the running for a spot in the curling semi-finals, but their performance of late has been far less attention-getting than their colourful trousers.
In speed skating, Norway’s Ida Njåtun had to settle for 12th place in the women’s 1500-meter race, won once again by a Dutch skater, Jorien Ter Mors, who nonetheless surprised everyone with a new Olympic record in the event.
Norway’s ice hockey team, meanwhile, ended a disappointing weekend with another loss, this time to Austria, after also losing to Canada and Finland.
Norway’s medal ranking (external link), meanwhile, bounced back up to third place on Sunday because of Jansrud’s gold. Norway now has five gold medals and a total of 14, behind the Netherlands and Germany.