There’s a familiar country atop the medal count in the Winter Olympics: Norway. The country has even set a new mark for most gold medals – after Johannes Thingnes Bø won his fourth of Beijing 2022 in the men’s biathlon 15km mass start – in a single Winter Games with 15.
This might surprise some given that Norway has only a little more than five million residents – not even in the top 100 most populated countries.
So what’s the secret to Norway’s historical and current success? Two big factors really.
The first is, perhaps obviously, the weather. It’s the Winter Olympics after all. Norway ranks in the bottom five in World Bank data for average temperature during the year at about 36 degrees Fahrenheit (two degrees Celsius).
When you take a look at a medal count and temperature chart (as in this Economist article), you’ll see a clear correlation between the two.
But it’s more than temperature – it is also money.
Think about how hard it is to train for the Olympics. Gear is often expensive. Children often need fortunate enough parents to get them to events. There also needs to be infrastructure in place to train for the Olympics.
GDP though doesn’t capture all types of wealth. That’s what the United Nations Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index is for; it takes into account other variables such as education, life expectancy and inequality.
Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen, who won gold in the men’s 4x7.5km biathlon relay and bronze in 15km mass start, outlined some of the – expensive – technology and techniques he and his teammates used to cope with the testing conditions in China.
“For the biathlon team, it’s been an unbelievable journey this Olympics in Beijing. We were a little bit afraid that maybe here with the wind and the cold it would be some surprises and a little bit of coincidences. So the last two, three years we tried to eliminate as much of these coincidences as we possibly could like training a lot in the altitude, training a lot in the wind.
“When we didn’t have real wind, we trained with this wind machine and put it behind us to have some wind from the left because we knew here from the data that it would be a lot of wind from the left. It’s very good to see that we get value for the work we have done the last two and a half years.”
A country where knowledge can be transferred and where more of the country has access to the funds necessary to compete would in theory supply a broader array of athletes. This was something that was noted originally in “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski.
You know where Norway is on the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index? Number one.
It shouldn’t be too surprising, therefore, that a wealthy country – where it is also cold – dominates the Winter Games.