The 2010 Vancouver Games is the latest place where the old Sweden-Norway rivalry has flared up anew.
by Chipp Reid
Wondering how Sweden is doing in the Olympics? Check the Norwegian papers.
Looking for Norway's medal count? Read the Swedish sports pages.
Eighty-two countries are competing in Vancouver, but in frosty northern Europe, it’s easy to think the main competition involves only two.
The Scandinavian rivalry is intense during the Winter Games, especially in cross-country events where both nations have world-class skiers. The Norwegians, particularly, are obsessed with trumping their Swedish neighbors.
After Sweden won its second gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics, Norwegian daily Dagbladet ran the cover of its Olympics insert in blue and yellow—the colors of the Swedish flag—with the plaintive headline "can't we get a gold too?"
Now they've won three.
When Marit Bjørgen finally won gold for Norway, in the women's cross-country sprint, Norwegians were equally thrilled by Swedish favorite Emil Jonsson's failure to reach the men's sprint final.
"The most important thing today was not to win Olympic gold, but to beat Emil Jonsson," Norway's Petter Northug told Norwegian TV2. Northug—Norway's biggest medal hope in Vancouver—had to settle for bronze in the final after being outpaced by two Russians.
Tora Berger earned her first Olympic gold medal and gave Norway its 100th overall in the Winter Olympics with a victory in the 15-kilometer individual biathlon race.
Not long after Norway became the first country ever to hit the 100 milestone in Winter Olympics gold medals, it had No. 101 when Emil Hegle Svendsen won the 20-kilometer individual biathlon race, denying countryman Ole Einar Bjørndalen his sixth Olympic gold medal.
Norway moved ahead 3-2 in the gold-medal standings midway through Day 7 in Vancouver, only to see Sweden level the field on Day 8. Much to Swedish joy and Norwegian sorrow, little-known Marcus Hellner flew past Northug—the TV2 talking head and world-champion skier—to win the 30 km pursuit.
The victory denied either nation an edge in a rivalry that is rooted deeply in history. Norway was forced into a union with Sweden that was dissolved only a century ago. During World War II, "neutral" Sweden looked the other way when German troops on leave used Swedish railways to travel home from Nazi-occupied Norway.
But much of the Scandinavian infighting boils down to a desire from both countries to have significance on the global stage.
Sweden gave the world such names as Volvo, Saab, Ikea and Abba.
Norway's global image is associated with its breathtaking fjords, but it lacks world-famous brands. Even the Nobel Peace Prize, which puts Norway in the global spotlight once a year, was established by a Swede.
The rivaly, especially in skiing, manifests itself most explicitly in the Winter Olympics. This is when ski-crazed Norway normally rules, and Sweden is little brother.
"It's fine to get beaten by the Swedes in ice hockey, because that happens. But it's not OK to get beaten by a Swedish skier," said Truls Daehli, a columnist for Norwegian tabloid VG.
When Swede Bjorn Ferry surprisingly won the 12.5-kilometer biathlon pursuit—while Norwegian medal favorites Bjørndalen and Svendsen missed the podium—the Norwegian grief was palpable: "Fiasco Olympics. And worst of all is that a Swede wins. Tragic," one posting said.
Across the border, the celebration began the second Ferry crossed the finish line, especially after the Norwegians—both press and people—made loud predictions of their anticipated dominance in Vancouver.
“It’s important that Sweden win, but it’s more important that we beat the Norwegians,” said Kalmar resident Bengt Andersson. “It’s always nice to beat them, especially after they talk trash about the Swedish team.”
Wire reports contributed to this story
In a warm moment in a cold war, Norwegian star Marit Bjørgen embraces Swede Anna Haag after they finished 1-2 in the women's 15 kilometer pursuit race.