Olympic Secrets of Gold

With its strongest team in more than 25 years Norway is the favorite to win both the highest gold and total medal count at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

What is really fascinating is that the vast majority of the Norwegian gold candidates competing in Sochi over the next few weeks come from the same small region called Trøndelag with 400,000 inhabitants.

The Wall Street Journal recently proved that Trøndelag natives have won more than a fifth of Norway’s medals over the history of the Winter Games (mainly in cross-country and biathlon) – even though the region accounts for only 8% of the country’s total population. At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Trøndelag athletes won eight of Norway’s nine gold medals. (read the article from WSJ here)

But what’s their secret? And what can we learn from Trøndelag about developing talent?

Well, the secret is that there is no real secret. There is no genetic magic. No special noses or long ears, but if you grow up in Trøndelag cross-country skiing is the most prestigious thing you can do. Being the best cross-country skier makes you the coolest kid on the block.

As a consequence of that the best athletes in Norway end up becoming cross-country skiers. In Canada they become ice hockey players. And in Jamaica they become sprinters. If Usain Bolt had grown up in the United States he would probably not have become a sprinter, but a basketball player or perhaps even a wide receiver in American football.

People in Trøndelag are not born with a special cross-country skiing gene. There is not more talent born there than anywhere else, but there is a culture ensuring that the best athletes don’t become footballers but cross-country skiers.

As the English philosopher T.S Eliot has put it: “The great ages didn’t contain more talent, but they wasted less”.

Posted on 10th Feb 2014 by Rasmus Ankersen

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