February 23, 2018 / 7:48 AM / 4 months ago

Olympics-Dominant Norway proud but humble amid gold rush

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Norway's stunning medal haul has been the talk of the Olympics and with 13 golds and three days of competition left, they could beat the record of 14 by one country at a single Winter Games.

Surpassing that mark, set by Canada in 2010, might be cause for celebration on the streets of Oslo, but the Norwegian delegation in Pyeongchang is staying humble.

"I was not expecting this level, I'm positively surprised by this fantastic group that I'm leading," Norway's chef de mission Tore Oevreboe told Reuters.

"The main thing is that we are very happy. And we are proud but we're not bragging. That is very important because this is how we do it in Norway."

Oevreboe has watched stunning performances by his athletes across the disciplines, with the added bonus of cross-country skier Marit Bjoergen becoming the most successful Winter Olympian of all time by claiming her 14th medal.

For the Norwegians, who have also plundered 12 silver and 10 bronze medals, fun and friendship come first.

"The medal count is one thing, but that's secondary. The most important thing is that we have had fun all the time and we are friends and we are still friends," Oevreboe said.

Asked about the secrets of Norway's success, Oevreboe pointed to one of the more obvious advantages the Nordic country has.

"Snow. And in our system, if you ask people that are 25 years old, 93 per cent of them have been into sports, they have been members of a club to do sports," he said.

"That means that nearly everybody in Norway is into sports and they are trying out if they think this is fun or not, so that's a huge advantage."

But it is not all down to the weather and willing participants.

GOOD HEALTH

"We are lucky that we have a society that actually supports every child that is born," said Oevreboe, a former Olympic rower.

"We have free health care, we have free schools, you can have a PhD without paying anything, you just have to pay for food and shelter and the government will pay for everything else," the 52-year-old added.

"That means that we have a pool of people that is quite well educated, have a good health standard and do not have a high level of anxiety for life so they can actually choose which direction they want to develop in.

"Some of them choose sports and we are lucky that they choose sports and then we really try to take care of them from when they are kids to when they're finished as top athletes."

From veterans like Bjoergen and Alpine skier Axel Lund Svindal to prodigious young talents such as cross-country skier Johannes Klaebo and biathlete Johannes Thingnes Boe, the Norwegians have delivered in Pyeongchang.

With the spectre of doping a constant backdrop to the Games, the Norwegian team has been open about the medicines it brought to Pyeongchang, particularly for treating asthma.

"We chose to be wide open about what we brought, but I can tell the world that we're bringing most of it back because this suitcase with medication is a nice-to-have suitcase, but we bring it back, nearly all of it," Oevreboe said.

"We want to be prepared to take care of them if they get sick and that's why we bring these medications ... and we're not going to use it for any purpose other than what they are diagnosed for," he added. (Writing by Philip O'Connor, reporting by Ilze Filks, editing by Ed Osmond)

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