Norwegians grabbed all three spots on the podium for winners of a tough 30-kilometer race at the Winter Olympics in South Korea on Sunday. The clean sweep left Norway leading the medals’ race after just two days of competition, while TV viewers back home were furious when one of the medal winners’ performance was ruined by a commercial.
The Olympics’ opening weekend got off to a fairly good start for Norway, despite a lack of coveted gold medals. Ski queen Marit Bjørgen won Norway’s first medal with a silver in the women’s 15-kilometer race on Saturday but claimed to be thrilled nonetheless. Bjørgen was also genuinely happy for her Swedish rival Charlotte Kalla, who trounced everyone and won the gold, while Krista Pärmäkoski of Finland took bronze.
Norwegian ski jumpers Johann-André Forfang and Robert Johansson also won medals, silver and bronze, and claimed it amounted to childhood dreams coming true. They didn’t get to bed until quarter-to-three in the morning local time, after having to wait for the competition to end, followed by medal presentations and press meetings. “Right now, I’m in a daze,” Forfang told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) as he headed for bed. “It’s the middle of the night, I’m tired and need to sleep on this.”
Marte Olsbu, however, was wide awake after also winning a silver medal in biathlon competition and suddenly became the queen of the evening. Norway is among the top medal candidates at the Olympics in PyeongChang, but Olsbu wasn’t considered a top contender. Newspaper Aftenposten noted on Sunday that she didn’t start taking part in biathlon until she was 14, late for top athletes. Now, at age 27, the young woman from Froland who lives in Lillehammer was delighted with her performance in the biathlon sprint.
Angry fans back home
TV viewers in Norway weren’t delighted at all, though, when the commercial broadcaster that won the bidding for this year’s Olympics aired a commercial right when Olsbu was up for the shooting portion of her race. TV Norge, owned by Discovery that has the rights, faced a storm of protests and angry comments on social media after opting for a split-screen that showed the commercial next to Olsbu’s shooting.
“That shouldn’t have happened, even though it was a split screen,” Espen Skoland, communications director for TV Norge, told newspaper Aftenposten on Sunday. “We’re sorry.”
Norway’s state broadcaster NRK, which is commercial-free, aired the Olympics for decades until the bidding and competion from other broadcasters got too expensive. TV2 took over at the last Olympics and now it’s TV Norge’s turn. “There has been some noise around the commercials,” Skoland admitted. “There’s traditionally been sports broadcasts without commercials, so the public isn’t used to it yet.”
Clean sweep on Sunday
Many Norwegians are following the Olympics online instead, not least since much of the action occurs while many are still sleeping. Norwegians woke up Sunday morning to their best news so far, that Simen Hegstad Krueger had won Norway’s first gold medal on Sunday in the tough 30-kilometer (18-mile) race that involves a change of style and skis half-way through it. Even better: Martin Johnsrud Sundby won the silver and Hans Christer Holund took the bronze in the same event.
That made for an all-Norwegian winners’ podium, and the jubilation for what they all called a “team effort” was complete in the bitterly cold Korean winter. “I have to send big thank-yous to Hans Christer and Martin,” Krueger told NRK. “Today we all succeeded, so it’s a team effort and a team victory.”
Norway’s speed skaters could also celebrate after Sverre Lunde Pedersen won a bronze meal on Sunday in the 5,000-meter race, just two-one-thousandths of a second behind the silver medalist. A medal had been Pedersen’s main goal at the Olympics and more may be in store for a resurgent Norwegian team.
Strong winds and the bitter cold forced cancellation, meanwhile, of several other events at the Olympics including the men’s alpine skiing. Norway had eight medals on Sunday, followed by the Netherlands with five and Canada and Germany with four each. Germany held the top spot, though, since three of its medals were gold.