The media madness surrounding Johaug’s positive doping results reminds me of the lessons I learned during the Sotchi Winter Olympic games in February 2014. I had never been interested in cross country skiing on television, but during those games I understood the seriousness of this sport to Norwegians. I had not been in Norway for that long when the games started, and was not aware of the high sensitiveness that this topic generates among Norwegians. Sanna Sarromaa could have written a whole chapter about this in her book Norske tabuer, because criticising anything regarding the Norwegian skiing heroes is tabou in Norway. Even more than not liking fredagstaco and SKAM.
Langrenn makes Norwegians become irrational
Back in 2014 in Sotchi, the Norwegian skiers were losing, especially the male team who came back with zero gold medals. Pretty strange for the best langrenn skiing nation in the world don’t you think? It became much more entertaining when the media started accusing all sorts of external factors rather than the skiers themselves (who are the best in the world). Their skis were rotten. The Russian snow was bad. The wax was problematic. The head of the waxing team (also called smøresjef) was incompetent. Venus was not aligned with Jupiter but with Mars. In any case, there was probably a conspiracy against the Norwegian team. See Why do Norwegians lose it during the Winter Olympics?
Of course, as a foreigner, I thought the whole scandal was hilarious, and I came back to my office one day saying to my colleague Torbjørn:
“A conspiracy. Seriously! Haha. Of what kind? The Swedes have created a agency to make sure the Norwegians mix up their waxes and lose on the podiums?”.
“Det er ikke tull. Det er OL. Det er langrenn” he said with the most serious tone of voice. “Do you know how hard it is to wax skis?” he added.
“Okay. Wow. Where is your sense of humour?” I wanted to ask. Forget it.
Golden rule number 1: When it comes to langrenn competitions and their hero skiers, Norwegians have zero sense of humour. On the bright side, they have lots of sense of humour when talking about just anything else.
When relating to their skiers, Norwegians don’t just lose their sense of humour, they also lose their rationality. It can be because their team is repeatedly losing during international cross country skiing competitions like in Sotchi, to having their national heroes being tested positive in doping controls, like Sundby and Johaug. Norwegian media go crazy. They do things like go back to the same country where the accused product (a lip cream bought in Italy in the case of Johaug) was bought to take pictures of the box and write articles about it. Norwegian media is currently covering the Johaug doping case as if Lady Diana had just died again. When it comes to their skiers, no criticism ever allowed. Ever. It is never their fault, whatever they do. Norwegian skiers are always heroes. You don’t believe me? Take my test.
Test: How rational are you when thinking about the Norwegian skiers?
Imagine your reaction to these two situations as a Norwegian.
Situation 1: You are watching the Winter Olympic games, and the Norwegian skiing team is winning against the French. Your team gets in front of all the others, and gets the first spot on the podium. You get up, scream. VICTORY. NOOORRGGGEEE. You feel happy. You knew that the Norwegian skiers were the best in the world but you are happy to see it is proven once again to the world.
Then you see that the French team is blaming the quality of the snow, the wax, their smøresjef, the position of the stars and god knows what other bad excuse. You just laugh. Bad losers. We won, we are the best. We are Norwegians.
Situation 2: A French langrenn skier is tested positive for doping. Your potential first reaction: That would never happen in Norway. Our skiing environment is clean. He goes on national television with the face of someone who just saw his house burn to ashes with his whole family inside, and says that he bought a hemorroid cream in a pharmacy in Norway.
“I did not see that I could get tested positive for doping by using this” he says, crying on national television.
What do you think then? What an idiot. Can’t even read a package of a medicine with written “doping” crossed in red. By the way, Norway has the best hemorroid cream in the world. So I hope this French skier is not implying there was something wrong with our cream.
If you are a foreigner reading this, you are probably confused. When they are negotiating peace processes, Norwegians are calm and dignifying. When they are playing chess Norwegians are calm and focused. When they are managing their precious oil money Norwegians are pragmatic. But when relating to langrenn they lose it. They could start a diplomatic cold war with Italy for not writing the redd cross on “doping” big enough on the lip cream box. Or on a more serious tone, they can suddenly become arrogant for winning a competition, and forgiving and protecting its skiers like a parent protects her children. Even if they are stupid. Even if they are guilty.
Golden rules for a foreigner trying to relate to Norwegian cross country skiing heroes:
- Norwegian cross country skiers are the best in the world. If anybody wins against them it is because of a very good reason which is external and could not have been foreseen. Like a different quality snow. I mean seriously guys, why can’t the whole world have as good quality snow as in Norway?
- Norwegian sport environment is clean. The cleanest in the world. There is no doping in Norwegian sport, especially not in cross country skiing.
- If any test proves this wrong, there is a very reasonable reason that the test was positive, which usually involves medicine that Ola and Kari Nordmann take everyday, such as a lip cream, an asthma spray or vitaminbjørner. Journalists will also be looking at foreign conspiracy into this matter. “Wait a second, where did you say that cream was bought? In Italy!! Everyone knows the Italian system cannot be trusted, compared to the great Norwegian medical system. See, it’s not our fault!”
- Even if a skier is caught doing something that nobody can excuse, such as drunk driving like Northug, then Norwegians will always forgive the skier. Because he/she apologized on national television, cried, felt guilty, whipped himself a few more times than usual to really feel the pain, and came home the chin high and tears in the eyes. It is about the values.
- If the international langrenn competition is organised in Norway, that the skiers are caught with positive doping tests and that the rest loses, then maybe the patience and admiration Norwegians have for their hero skiers could be altered. But not sure.
Of course, there is a huge difference between losing a competition and being doped. Because losing is legal, while being proven to be doped can end your sports career. Losing and doping have one similarity though, and that is that Norwegians cannot accept either of those when it involves their langrenn skiers. Norwegians langrenn skiers are heroes. They are never guilty. And even if they are, we forgive them. If they lose it’s not their fault. And why is that? I believe that Norwegians as individuals have been taught to be humble, but as a nation they want to be proud. And as a small nation of 5 million inhabitants there are not so many things they can be the best in the world at. Langrenn is one of them. If a skier was really proven as doped, without a good excuse, then I believe it would be such a breach of moral codes in Norwegian society and sports miljø more specifically that this sports person would be extracised immediately. Even worse than a politician accepting to be corrupt.
While I really want Norwegians around me to feel proud and happy, I am a bit hurt in my ego of foreigner to see that whatever the Norwergians apply to their skiers does not apply to any sports person from anywhere else in the world. Open your eyes, please. Norwegians are not the best at everything. And yes, it might be that Johaug is not doped. Or Nordby. But this doubt you have for your own heroes, try to apply it to all of ours.
This article was published in the Norwegian newspaper VG on the 16th of October under the title Født med ski på hjernen.