What does it take to become an Olympic medalist?

Updated: Mar 22


We have all seen the movies, commercials, or inspirational advertisements in which a young kid stands in front of their television in amazement, mimicking heroes such as Usain Bolt, Chloe Kim, or Simone Biles who beam on the bright screen above them. Often, the commercials show the child growing up to become Alex Morgan crying from joy as she wins her first gold medal. During the Olympics you can barely turn on your TV without seeing one of these videos; however, it does spark the question, what does it actually take to become an Olympic athlete?


As many assume, and is partly true, it takes years of skill and training to even be considered to try out for an Olympic team. What often isn’t told is that most of the figure skaters you see competing today probably knew how to skate before they could walk. It takes years and years of dedication and hard work to be considered for an Olympic team.


Countries with more global power and economics, such as America, China, and Russia, have a history of producing more experienced and developed athletes than countries with less world impact or economic welfare. When a country has more money and social status, it not only allows for expenses such as equipment, trainers, and healthcare for their athletes, but many countries such as the US also have training facilities designed just for Olympic athletes. The United States has training facilities spread across the country: however, the largest and most well known site is in Colorado Springs. According to this article, The Colorado Springs Olympic & Paralympic Training Center “is able to provide housing, dining, training facilities, recreational facilities and other services for more than 500 athletes and coaches at one time on the complex.”


One of the heaviest components to determine an Olympic medal is money. For example, according to Forbes.com, it can annually cost over $25,000 for archers to train for the Olympics, and the prices continue to rise. Archery training usually lasts around four years, and for many athletes, that can get very costly. Even just purchasing the correct equipment to play this sport can cost thousands of dollars, as well as shooting range fees and coaching that costs over $100 per hour.


In addition to what most athletes individually pay, countries often pay for training, healthcare, and equipment. Some very powerful and economically stable countries even offer large rewards to athletes who win medals. Countries such as Singapore can offer over $500,000 if their athletes win gold.


Summer Olympics tend to follow the pattern of economic and social power. The countries of higher rank in these areas are the ones who win gold medals, and the countries that fall short economically often don’t make it through qualifying rounds. It often varies between China, Russia, and the United States as to who takes home the most gold medals, but every four years these three countries are always at the top of the podium.


In the summer Olympics, more countries may have a chance to have the highest medal count of the games, but in the Winter Olympics no other country stands a chance against the long term success of Norway. Over the past years, there is no denying Norway's lead and accomplishments in the Winter Olympics. In 2018, Norway held the top medal count of 39. The 2022 Winter Olympics just ended, with some of the wealthiest Northern European countries in the lead, and Norway continues their legacy at the top with a final count of 37 medals: 16 of them gold, 8 of them silver, and 13 of them bronze. Norway is shortly followed by ROC, with a count of 32, and Germany, with a count of 27.


It can be clearly seen that the leading countries are all countries known for having long winters and staying fairly cool all year. This includes places such as Canada, in which people from all over North America go to snowboard or ski, and Sweden, which is commonly known for the idea of winter and associated with snow and ice. But what makes Norway so special when it comes to the Winter Olympics?


Unlike the other countries listed, Norway has different beliefs and methods for training Olympians. One of the methods involved in the lives of all athletes at an early age is the rule against keeping score. In Norway, there is a rule for all organized youth sports teams that you cannot keep score until the kids turn 13. This rule was put in place because they wanted kids to develop social skills and a love for the sport they are playing without the pressure of “winning” every game they play. Another tradition for Norwegian Olympic athletes is to receive a prize. According to Time Magazine, instead of earning a cash prize, like most Olympians from rich countries do, “Norway’s athletes get treated to dessert every time one of them wins a medal”. This rule is compatible with the fact that trainers are not allowed to tell their athletes how much they weigh to discourage eating disorders. Although all of these methods are extremely helpful, one of the largest differences between Norway and the US’ success is free healthcare. In Norway, young athletes are given the care and chances they need to recover and play for their country, whereas here in the US, one torn tissue can kick you out of your sport forever due to a lack of medical attention.


There are skills and practices that go into becoming an Olympic athlete, but, as cheesy as it sounds, belief and hard work are some of the most important and impactful things you can have to fight for your place on an Olympic podium.


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