Norway’s last day of Olympic competition didn’t elicit anywhere near the cheers of its first day, with the men’s cross-country team losing out to the stronger Russians in the tough, final 50-kilometer race. A lack of Norwegian spectators in the grandstands throughout the Olympics, meanwhile, has sparked more criticism of the country’s top sports bureaucrats.
Even though Norway ended up ranking second in the medals race, with a final haul of 26 medals and 11 in gold, the Norwegian men’s cross-country team put on its worst performance in 30 years. Not since the Olympics in Sarajevo have they come home with fewer medals, only one gold and one bronze.
Fourth in the 50K
Martin Johnsrud Sundby was favoured for a new gold medal on Sunday in the men’s 50-kilometer mass start race. He ended up taking fourth, right behind a trio of Russians who grabbed the gold, silver and bronze, just like the Norwegian women had done on Saturday. “We had a goal of getting medals in all the distances here,” Sundby, who earlier won bronze, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Instead we won two, and that’s way below expectations.”
Former Norwegian skiing superstar Petter Northug finished a disappointing 18th in the 50K. “Martin could have saved us with a gold today,” he told NRK. “The rest of us just didn’t deliver.” Northug, who trained outside the team this year and has battled illness, was going home from an international competition for the first time in years without a single medal himself.
High prices kept spectators away
There were also far less Norwegian fans cheering their athletes on from the stands this year, and that’s being blamed on a ticket sales and travel monopoly that the Norwegian sports federation (Norges Idrettsforbund) granted to a single operator, Jet Set Sports. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that it charged prices that were too high even for affluent Norwegians and sponsors.
“I don’t think there have been fewer Norwegians at a Winter Olympics since 1988,” Ivar Stuan of Sponsorlink, who arranged such sports travel for many years, told DN. “The main reason is probably the negative image of Sochi in advance, the language challenges and Russia, along with sky-high package prices from those who had the rights to sell them in Norway.”
While the sports federation claims it was happy with how Jet Set Sports arranged travel and tickets for its own guests, sponsors like Telenor balked at spending as much as NOK 50,000 (USD 8,300) per person for just four days at the Olympics. The packages sold in Norway were much more expensive than those sold by suppliers in Finland and Sweden, for example.
Neither sports federation officials nor Jet Set Sports, which became a federation sponsor just after winning the ticket sales monopoly, would reveal the terms of their agreement. “We have many sponsor agreements,” Inge Andersen, secretary general of the federation, told DN. “We don’t talk about them.”
Even the federation’s president, Børre Rognlien, though, was surprised by the high prices. “I have registered there are few Norwegians here,” he told DN. Gerhard Heiberg of the International Olympic Committee said that “authorized ticket sales” (monopolies) were set up to fight the problem of ticket scalping.
“But it’s unfortunate if it costs too much to be an OL spectator,” Heiberg said. “This isn’t my area, but I have followed what’s going on. Jet Set Sports’ prices are much too expensive. This can’t continue. As a member of the sports’ board, I’ll see what I can do.”