Which Olympic Sports Were Not Invented in Norway?

The Origins of Winter Olympic Sports

Norway is a Winter Olympics superpower. With a population of only 5 million (roughly the same as Alabama) this tiny Scandinavian country has earned 329 medals (118 of them gold), considerably more than any other country. And, perhaps, it’s not surprising. In a nation with an ideal alpine training ground and a culture that prioritizes an active lifestyle, the people seem destined, if not primed, to excel in winter sports beginning at a young age. Norway’s dominance at the Olympic Games would lead many to believe that most of these competitive sports originated on their terrain, but the majority were invented elsewhere.

1) Bobsled/Bobsleigh

The Origins of Winter Olympic Sports

You might know this sport from the movie Cool Runnings, loosely based on the story of the Jamaican bobsled team’s debut in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada. The bobsled is operated by a 2- or 4-person team who careen around sharp curves and rocket down narrow, slick ice tracks at speeds of more than 80 mph. Although the sled had been around for centuries, used for transporting heavy items over blocks of ice, the bobsled wasn’t invented until the late 1860s, in the upper heights of Switzerland, when daredevils attached two sleds together and added a steering mechanism. The bobsled gained popularity as a sport and recreational pastime, and the chassis was added later to protect wealthy tourists.

2) Curling

The Origins of Winter Olympic Sports

To the uninitiated, the nuanced game of curling in which the players wield brooms and furiously sweep the ice beneath them might seem odd, or even, unchallenging. However, this tidy sport involves an incredible amount of precision, balance, and athleticism. Dubbed the “roaring game” for the rumbling sound the 44-pound granite stone makes as it glides over the slick ice, it originated in Scotland during the 16th century, a pastime first played on frozen ponds and lochs. Since then, the brooms—which players use to melt the ice and manipulate the stone’s trajectory—have evolved from traditional household cleaning tools made from corn husks to high-end synthetic brushes that closely resemble Swiffers.

3) Ice hockey

The Origins of Winter Olympic Sports

Though the origins of this adrenaline-pumping team sport are debated, many believe it got its start in Windsor, Nova Scotia, where boys at Canada’s first college adapted the ancient game of hurling to play on frozen ponds. The sport’s popularity made its way west and the first organized game was played at an indoor skating rink in Montreal in 1875. Unsurprisingly, Canada dominated the first few years at the Winter Olympic Games. Then, for a long stretch starting in 1956 and until its dissolution, the USSR remained the elite, unbeatable team. But hockey fans will remember well the “miracle on ice”—the 1980 game in which the U.S. broke the Soviet’s winning streak and snagged the gold. It was one of the most epic upsets of all time, inspiring the 2004 movie Miracle.

4) Snowboarding

The Origins of Winter Olympic Sports

Compared to its cousin skiing, snowboarding is a recent development, originating in Muskegon, Michigan, only 50 years ago. On Christmas day in 1965, a surf fanatic named Sherman Poppen bolted two of his daughters’ skis together to make a single, wide board—a device that he said would allow them to “surf the snow.” His wife Nancy christened the invention the “Snurfer” (a portmanteau of the words “snow surfer”) and, thus, the primitive prototype of the snowboard was born. It would be two decades before the sport caught on and another five before Shaun White picked up his first board.

5) Speed Skating

The Origins of Winter Olympic Sports

The origins of speed skating date back over a millennium and began as a rapid form of transportation across frozen lakes, rivers and canals in Scandinavia and the Netherlands. Early skaters added animal bones to the bottoms of their shoes to cover long distances quickly. But it was a Scotsman who created the skate design we know today—he replaced the bones with an iron blade in 1592. This adaptation catapulted the sport into the mainstream, and notable skaters of the day included Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

6) Cross-Country Skiing, Biathlon, Ski Jumping

The Origins of Winter Olympic Sports

So which winter sports did Norway invent? Look no further than the culture’s beloved pastime: skiing, a passion that seems to be stitched into their DNA. After all, Norwegians are born with skis on their feet, as the old Nordic adage goes. The word “ski” is actually a Norwegian word and the tradition of cross-country skiing began thousands of years ago in northern Scandinavia where skis were used as transportation across the ice- and snow-covered landscape. Cross-country skiing as sport came about in the 1840s and made its debut at the first Winter Olympics in 1896.

The Origins of Winter Olympic Sports

Biathlon (sometimes known as ski shooting) involves competitors following a cross-country skiing course and breaking for bouts of shooting, both lying down and standing. The biathlon tradition began when hunters traversed the snow-covered forests of Scandinavia on skis, rifles slung over their shoulders. The first modern biathlon competition occurred in 1912 and was organized by the Norwegian military.

The Origins of Winter Olympic Sports

To some, ski jumping may look like a death wish, but Norwegians have perfected it to an art. The origins of the first ski jump can be traced back to 1808, when a military officer named Olaf Rye launched himself 31 feet in the air in front of an audience of other soldiers. Over time, the sport has evolved with different jumping techniques that allow for even more impressive distances.Why just watch when you can try all these sports yourself and maybe, down the road, bring home the gold?


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