These days, it seems you can hardly open a paper without news of some Icelandic sporting victories abroad (and do a mental Viking clap). But things weren’t always so good. One of the first times Icelandic athletes competed internationally was at the 1908 Olympics, when Jóhannes Jósepsson tried his hand at Greco-Roman wrestling. Sadly, he did not win a medal.
Things were looking up at the 1912 Stockholm games, when Icelandic wrestling was introduced. As Iceland was the only country to participate in the sport, hopes were high for Olympic gold, but since the event was merely a demonstration sport, no medals were handed out. After this snub, Iceland did not take part for a while, blaming their absence on economic difficulties. One Icelandic student in Copenhagen participated in 1920, but as a part of the Danish team, and this two years after Iceland achieved statehood.
It was only with Hitler’s Berlin Olympics of 1936 that Iceland again fielded its own delegation, which it has done ever since, barring the 1972 winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, which may have been a belated snub to the Axis powers. So far, three Icelandic individuals have won Olympic medals: Vilhjálmur Einarsson got silver for triple jump in 1956, Bjarni Friðriksson received bronze for judo in 1984, and Vala Flosadóttir bronze for pole vaulting in 2000. Then, in 2008, the handball team managed silver at the Beijing Olympics, with many MPs and other notables flying out at great expense to witness the event. Two months later, the economy collapsed.
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