Enraptured Norway watches on as athletes dominate Winter Olympics

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Norway are dominating at the Winter Olympics.

“If the phone rings during the final sprint, I call back a few minutes later,” smiles Espen Thoresen, an online community manager. In Norway, work sometimes comes second during the Winter Olympics.

Norwegians – born with skis on their feet, as one saying goes – go wild every four years for the sporting rendezvous at which they excel. And so they follow the Games closely, even in the workplace.

And with their bosses’ blessings, to boot.

At Kahoot, a young Oslo start-up that makes educational apps, a big flat screen TV on the wall of the common area is showing the Vikings’ latest exploits thousands of miles away in Pyeongchang.

On this day, two employees – both Norwegian, though the staff here is almost as international as the Olympic Games – drop themselves into two armchairs to follow the men’s Nordic combined where athletes compete in cross-country skiing and ski jumping.

Because of the time difference, “the Olympics are on in the morning here, so you can give yourself a few small breaks,” says Thoresen, who ignores his work phone when the events get exciting.

“And it’s finished by 2:00 pm. Then it’s full steam ahead for the rest of the day so we still get a lot of work done in addition to watching the Olympics,” he explains.

He’s far from alone.

Almost a quarter of Norwegians said before the Games started that they planned to watch the olympics on work time, according to a poll conducted by Norstat for cable TV operator Get TDC.

Among men, 12 percent said they would even defy their boss if he or she banned employees from watching during work time.

That hasn’t been necessary at Kahoot.

“It’s tradition in Norway to gather children during class time to watch some of the most exciting events,” says co-founder Asmund Furuseth.

“So when you start working, it feels normal to be allowed to watch the olympics even if you’re at work. Norwegians are good about prioritising their workday.”

During the Winter Olympics, Norway falls into “a kind of state of emergency”, according to Vegard Einan, vice president of the Parat trade union.

“To watch the end of a relay, or a speed skating race, or ski jumping or a downhill without answering the phone is generally accepted,” he explains.

And, he insists, it has no negative impact on Norwegians’ work: “It makes people happy and we know that happiness in the workplace increases productivity.”

Employers are as passionate about the Games as their employees.

“My experience is that companies find good solutions and manage to combine the wish to watch the main sporting events and productivity,” says Nina Melsom of the employers’ organisation NHO.

In 2014, Oslo’s then-mayor Fabian Stang made headlines when he suggested that the city’s 55,000 municipal employees ought to abstain from watching the Sochi Winter Games during work time. An outcry ensued, and he had to soften his stance.

Twenty years earlier, Norway was so absorbed by the Olympics it was hosting in Lillehammer that a robber took advantage of the opportunity to make off with a national treasure: Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” was nabbed from an Oslo museum just hours before the opening ceremony.

“Of course the Olympics could mean a drop in efficiency (at work) in the short term,” said Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who has been seen absorbed by competitions on her tablet and mobile phone.

“But if Norway does well, people are happy and this happiness helps increase efficiency,” she told TV Norge last week.

And, let it be said, Norway is not just doing well, it is doing excellently.

The country of less than 5.3 million inhabitants is currently dominating the medal standings in Pyeongchang – its most prolific Games ever.

Even combining the USSR’s and Russia’s medals, and those of East and West Germany, Norway is among the top three countries in the history of the Winter Olympics. It is also home to the three athletes who have won the most medals: Marit Bjorgen (14), Ole Einar Bjorndalen (13) and Bjorn Daehlie (12).

So will it be hard to go back to work on Monday morning once the Games are over and the euphoria has subsided? “It’ll feel a little empty,” admits Alexander Remen, another sports fan at Kahoot.

“But then we can still rejoice in the fact that we’ve won so many medals.”

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Switzerland's Michelle Gisin overshadows Mikaela Shiffrin-Lindsey Vonn showdown to win alpine combined gold

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Michelle Gisin took gold in the alpine combined event.

Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin consigned American Mikaela Shiffrin to silver after storming to victory in the Olympic women’s alpine combined on Thursday.

Gisin, lying third fastest after the opening downhill, displayed nerves of steel in the slalom to clock an aggregate time of 2min 20.90sec.

“It’s amazing to be on the podium with two such amazing skiers,” she said. “I knew I’d have to deliver the slalom of my life to have a chance to get that gold medal.”

Shiffrin, who won the giant slalom gold in Pyeongchang but could only finish fourth in her favoured slalom, was almost a second back, while another Swiss racer, Wendy Holdener, claimed bronze.

Lindsey Vonn, leader in the downhill, failed to finish the slalom.

“It’s a nice way to end the Olympics,” Shiffrin said of her second medal. “I started off with a bang and ending with a medal on the podium is really cool.

“I came into these Olympics knowing I could be a medal threat in multiple disciplines,” added the American.

“After the gold in the giant slalom, I was really hopeful and positive. Then I had a tougher day in the slalom but it still feels good though.”

The race had been billed as a rare showdown between the past and future of women’s alpine skiing, but Gisin proved to be the fly in the ointment in the clash between Vonn and Shiffrin.

The combined, the last individual ski race of the 2018 Winter Games, was their only head-to-head matchup in South Korea.

Shiffrin skipped the downhill after the combined was brought forward a day and Vonn, battling back from a raft of injuries, missed the technical events to focus on the super-G and downhill.

The pair rarely compete against each other on the World Cup circuit because of their preferred specialities. But there was still a feeling that the baton has been passed.

The 33-year-old Vonn, who has the most World Cup victories by a female skier (81), is closing in on Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup wins and has pledged to ski on until she breaks that mark.

“I knew I had to risk everything,” said Vonn, who won downhill bronze in midweek. “I used to win slaloms but now my body doesn’t cooperate with me as much as I would like.”

Shiffrin, 22, has already racked up 41 World Cup victories and could realistically target not only that record but also many more Olympic and world championship medals.

Changing of the guard: Mikaela Shiffrin bested Lindsey Vonn to nab silver.

Changing of the guard: Mikaela Shiffrin bested Lindsey Vonn to nab silver.

Shiffrin took to the start gate with a 0.76sec advantage over Holdener, who won silver in the Pyeongchang slalom and world combined silver last year, and the American could be seen chewing her lips in stress as she readied herself.

Despite losing some time midway through the course, Shiffrin powered through to the bottom to take first place, 0.47sec ahead of Holdener.

“I made a bit too big a mistake in the downhill to come back from that in the slalom but I can be really proud of a lot of the turns I made,” she said.

The Swiss were determined to spoil Shiffrin’s party.

First up for the Swiss, however, was defending world combined champion Wendy Holdener, 10th fastest after the downhill, who produced an electric slalom run of 40.21sec to lead with 2:22.34.

But then came Holdener’s team-mate Gisin, who ripped down a near-faultless run to leapfrog Shiffrin by almost a second.

“That was about as good a run as I could have done,” said the 24-year-old, following with aplomb her elder sister Dominique’s tracks – she won joint downhill gold with Tina Maze in Sochi.

“My sister made me believe that you can grab the stars and that’s what I did today.”

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Winter Olympics: Andre Myhrer takes shock slalom gold as favourites Marcel Hirscher and Henrik Kristoffersen crash out

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Sweden's Andre Myhrer took a gold medal he could scarcely have expected.

Swedish veteran Andre Myhrer took a shock slalom men’s gold at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Thursday as the two favourites both spectacularly bombed out.

Ramon Zenhaeusern of Switzerland won silver, 0.34sec behind, and Michael Matt of Austria the bronze after his compatriot Marcel Hirscher and then Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway imploded.

Myhrer, at 35 years and 42 days, becomes the oldest Olympic slalom winner, breaking the record set by Austria’s Mario Matt in 2014.

He also follows Ingemar Stenmark, who won the slalom and giant slalom in 1980, as only the second Swedish man to claim an Olympic alpine skiing gold.

“It means everything. I’ve been training my whole life for a moment like this,” said the unheralded Swede, who also took slalom bronze in 2010.

“I took a medal in Vancouver, a bronze, but I’ve been always dreaming about the gold medal and now it’s a reality and I’m totally blown away.”

Myhrer said that he feared his chance had gone as he came to the end of his run.

“I haven’t seen the split times but that was my feeling coming into the last part and I just tried to force everything I had,” he said, after clocking a winning combined time of 1:38.99.

“And luckily it was enough to go home with the gold.”

‘I SKIED REALLY BADLY’

Myhrer could hardly believe his luck as favourites Hirscher and Kristoffersen bombed out.

He went into the second and final run in second place behind Kristoffersen, who went fastest in the morning and looked to have one hand on the title.

But nerves appeared to get the better of Kristoffersen, who was going last, and his dreams of a first Olympic gold were obliterated when he failed to finish his second run.

Just as surprisingly, Hirscher crashed out in the morning run, ruining his hopes of a golden hat-trick in South Korea.

Marcel Hirscher failed to medal.

Marcel Hirscher failed to medal.

Hirscher, 28, failed to find his rhythm on a course set by his own coach, Michael Pircher, and eventually missed a gate to fail to even make the second run.

Hirscher – who had already won the men’s alpine combined and giant slalom at these Games, his first individual Olympic titles – revealed he had never been comfortable in the lead-up to the slalom, even in training.

“The feeling was really bad the whole week on slalom skis and this is the final result,” he said.

“I had absolutely no confidence on this kind of snow. I skied really badly. This is what also can happen and is part of the game, part of the sport.

“You have success and sometimes you have not the best days.”

Hirscher had been aiming to become only the fourth skier in history to win a third gold medal at a single Olympics, joining Austria’s Toni Sailer (1956), Frenchman Jean-Claude Killy and Croatia’s Janica Kostelic (2002).

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