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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Ruud’s triumph reflects a new era

Norwegian athletes aren’t just excelling in skiing any longer. Tennis player Casper Ruud is the latest to catapult to the top of his sport internationally, joining the ranks of other young Norwegian superstars in football, track and field, chess and golf.

Norway’s Casper Ruud made it into the finals at the French Open earlier this summer, and again at the US Open. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Just before the 23-year-old Ruud advanced to the final at the US Open in New York over the weekend, Norwegian football star Erling Braut Haaland, age 21, was being widely acclaimed as one of the best players the world has ever seen. His steady scoring and brilliant start in the Premier League for Manchester City has been playing out in tandem with fellow Norwegian football hero Martin Ødegaard, who now plays for Arsenal and has already advanced to being captain of Norway’s national men’s football team at the age of 23. Norway also claims some of the best women’s football players in the world, like Ada Hegerberg and Caroline Graham Hansen.

Norwegian track and field stars like Karsten Warholm, age 26, and Jakob Ingebrigtsen, 21, have also grabbed international headlines. Both have been winning gold medals at the Olympics and the World Championships after growing up in small and often wind-swept towns along the West Coast.

Norway has also long been home to the world’s reigning chess champion, Magnus Carlsen, and the golf world has been impressed by 24-year-old Viktor Hovland, even though he didn’t play well this past weekend. Hovland’s success on the golf circuit follows that of Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and like Ruud, Hovland is battling his way to the top of his sport.

It’s Casper Ruud from Snarøya just west of Oslo, though, who’s in the spotlight again this week. Even though he lost to Carlos Alcaraz in the final at the US Open on Sunday, just making it into the finals was an accomplishment. Ruud emerged from it all as the number-two ranked player in the world.

“I’m really proud of being number two,” Ruud said when Norway woke up Monday morning to news of the US Open results. “It’s a good thing, because I can still hunt for a place (higher). That can be tough, but then I have something to conquer.”

He’d also been thrilled after beating Karen Khachanov of Russia on Friday in New York and securing his ticket to the final at one of the most important tennis tournaments in the world. It also marked the second time he’d made it to a Grand Slam final this season.

Ruud wasn’t acting like a beaten man after losing to Alcaraz, and instead looked forward to more Grand Slam finals. He also won fans’ hearts in New York after noting how the US Open final played out on “a special day,” the anniversary of the city’s deadly terrorist attacks, and simply saying that he’d done his best.

Norwegian sports commentators have been speculating lately about how and why Norwegian athletes are doing so well lately, both on and off the ski slopes and trails where they’ve traditionally dominated. Daniel Røed-Johansen noted in newspaper Aftenposten last last week that most of the men, at least, have been prodded and coached by highly engaged and knowledgable fathers. Ingebrigtsen and his brothers were all initially coached by their dad Gjert. Haaland’s and Ødegaard’s fathers have also played professional football and important roles in their sons’ careers. Chess champ Carlsen’s father has been by his side since he was child.

Ruud’s father, Christian Ruud, was also an accomplished tennis player, still travels and coaches his son. He has spoken out against some Norwegian regulations around children’s athletics, including a rule that children under the age of 13 should not compete outside the Nordic countries. He has argued that anyone aiming to become “really good” in tennis must start competing internationally at an early age, yet he also applied the brakes himself and encouraged his son to participate in all sorts of sports, not just tennis.

The most important message, according to commentator Røed-Johansen, is that “the professional dream isn’t something a parent can force upon his or her child. The passion must come from within.”

If it’s there, it’s a great advantage to have a father or mother who understands it and can nurture it, added Røed-Johansen. All of Norway’s current sports superstars “have had a burning desire” to excel, and been willing to do the work necessary. Most are also fearless, and can walk into the largest stadiums and arenas in the world as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. And that, he wrote, “contributes towards inspiring others across all sports.” Berglund



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