Rarely have Norwegian athletes grabbed so much international attention outside of the ski season as they have during the past few weeks. Norway suddenly has a rash of young stars at the top of their sports in football, track and field, tennis and golf, and they’re making headlines far beyond their homeland.
This week it’s mostly been tennis pro Casper Ruud in the limelight, as he steadily advanced at the French Open. He became the first Norwegian ever to win an ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) title, leading Norway to victory over the US at the ATP Cup while also winning the Argentina Open, reaching the finals of the 2020 Chile Open and the third round of the Grand Slam. He won a thriller in Paris on Wednesday and was set to face Dominic Thiem, who recently won the US Open.
At age 21, Ruud is part of a new generation of young Norwegian athletes who are doing very well indeed. Norway has traditionally done well in winter sports but now Norwegian athletes are everywhere, and in the case of track star Karsten Warholm, being treated like rock stars.
Warholm, who just completed the best season ever for any runner in the hurdles, is even being flown by private jet from track meet to track meet around Europe, and not just because of Corona virus concerns. Newspaper Aftenposten wrote recently how Warholm has been getting the same treatment as the famed Usain Bolt did, flown and received in first-class style in Berlin and Rome because he’s a big draw, even at time without spectators in the stands.
Warholm, who was also declared the world’s best male track and field athlete by the US’ Track and Field News last year, did even better this year. He’s a world champion who’s well grounded, however, having fun swaggering around the field while beating his chest and making thumbs-up signs but also telling Norwegian Broadcasting after his historic season that “if I get beat next year, everyone will forget me.” That’s not necessarily true, but it may keep him hungry for ever more world records and medals. He was the clear gold medal candidate at this year’s Corona-cancelled Summer Olympics that’s been postponed until next year.
The Norwegian Ingebrigtsen brothers have also made their mark as longer-distance runners, with 20-year-old Jakob Ingebrigtsen recently smashing the Norwegian record in the 3,000-meter race by 10 full seconds. He’s also a gold medal candidate at next summer’s Olympics, if they can be held.
Then there’s the young football stars Erling Braut Haaland, also age 20, and Martin Ødegaard, 21. They’re making their marks at Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid respectively, with Haaland especially impressing fans with all his scoring. As Aftenposten has written, Haaland is really playing on the field in the true sense of the word, clearly having fun when he scored two goals for Dortmund in the league opener. Ødegaard, meanwhile, started for Real Madrid in its season opener, a feat described as sensational in itself for the young Norwegian from Drammen.
On Thursday, another young Norwegian, 20-year-old Jens Petter Hauge, signed a contract with none other than AC Milan, where he’ll now be playing with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (38). It’s not only lucrative for young Hauge but for his home team Bodø/Glimt, which secured a transfer fee of EUR 5 million, or NOK 56 million. Hauge himself has a contract for five years, at EUR 1 million a year.
Aftenposten noted that all the young new stars, including golfer Viktor Hovland, who’s been playing in the PGA tour, come from “good local communities” where they’ve been able to develop. They share a hunger for winning and have a strong mentality. They present themselves as ordinary young men who’ve had a good upbringing. They clearly have good genes, along with engaged and resourceful parents.
Norway is also “a good country in which to grow up,” notes Norwegian sports commentator Erlend Nesje, and they share stamina and commitment. Ødegaard was only 15 when he made his breakthrough and he’s systematically used the past six years to make his way onto Real Madrid’s top team. And they’ve all been willing to do the work needed: training, training, training.
“It’s not really that unusual for Norwegians to not only do well on the ski slopes, the ski trails or the ice arena, but also in track and field, tennis, golf and football,” Nesje wrote. “We just have to get used to that.”