The Winter Olympics: How World Events in the 20th century shaped race for Sporting Dominance

The Northern Lights

Since its inception in 1924, the Winter Olympics has been dominated by countries in the Northern Hemisphere. The first 3 games were entirely made up of Northern Hemisphere nations and it wasn’t until 1992 that a Southern Hemisphere athlete won a medal in the form of a silver in the women’s slalom for Annelise Coberger of New Zealand.

The country which has been overall most dominant in the Winter Olympics is one of the World’s most Northernmost. Norway topped the medal table in the inaugural Winter Olympics and repeated this feat 4 years later. Norway’s performance over winter games to follow meant they topped the all-time Winter Olympics Table for some years to come. That is until a new force in Winter Sports entered the fray.

The Cold War

Following the break in competition for World War II, a new power in the Winter Olympics emerged. USSR first competed in the Winter Olympics in 1956 and finished comfortably on top of the medal. They continued to top the medal table in all but one of the Winter Olympics games 1956 – 1976. Such incredible form meant that by the end of the Innsbruck 1976 Winter Olympic Games, the USSR had replaced Norway at the top of the all-time Winter Olympics medal table. 

Two more victories in 1980 and 1988 as well as second place in 1984, cemented USSR’s position on top of the all-time Winter Olympics medal table. By the end of the Calgary 1988 games, the USSR had amassed 78 Golds across all winter Olympic games which dwarfed even their closest rival Norway’s count of 54. With such dominance it seemed, only a series of world changing events could stop them. 

The Walls Came Tumbling Down

Between the Calgary 1988 and Albertville 1992 Winter Olympics, the USSR dissolved, leaving no team to defend their position at the top of the all-time Winter Olympics medal table.  Despite very strong performances, it took Norway 10 years and 3 Winter Olympic games to regain their place at the top of the all-time medal table, such was the USSR’s previous dominance. Norway would hold this distinguished position to the present day.

Also in between the 1998 and 1992 Winter Olympics, the Berlin Wall fell. A reunified Germany was then able to combine its efforts to be a serious competitor on the Winter Olympic stage again. In their first Winter Olympics in 1992 as a unified country, Germany topped the medal table and repeated this feat in 1998 and 2006, whilst consistently remaining near the top of the medal table in the other games. Germany’s performance has been so strong post- unification, that they outperformed the United States and even Norway over this period. If their form continues, Germany may take the second overall place from the United States by the end of the 2042 games, although Norway need no fear for now, as current form has Germany challenging them for the all-time top spot around the year 2190. That is unless any world changing events occur in that time, which they may well do.

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