Knowledge as the key to success in sports

For nearly 25 years, Nord University has offered the combination of elite sports and education. “Knowledge is crucial for success; it changes everything”, says Assistant Professor Per Øyvind Torvik.

​“Good work! Don’t fall back, even if you’re worn out!” shouts Per Øyvind, while the autumn r​ain chucks it down and the mercury is down to just under four degrees. 

We’re in the Grova Ski Centre in Meråker, where 16 students are about to complete one of the toughest interval sessions of the academic year. With lactic acid in their legs and the taste of blood in their mouths, they are pushed through the gruelling roller ski trail. On the dark and wet asphalt they push on up several steep slopes, each round taking about four minutes. They will repeat this six times, with a three minute interval in-between. 

The article continues below the video.

A veteran of Germany’s National team

Among the students, there is one that stands out. Max Olex (29), from Germany, is around ten years older than his fellow students, and is already established as a national team runner for his home country. 

“I’m here because I want to be, not because I have to. As long as I feel like I have more to give, I can’t give up cross-country skiing. Because then I have not tried everything. That’s why I’m here – to develop further”. 

“ This is the best place to be if you want to learn more,” says Max, before rushing for a hot shower and dry clothes. 

Spectacularly good results

Ever since 1996, Nord University has tailored a package solution for people who want to study alongside training to become top athletes. Around 400 students have benefitted from this offer over the past 24 years, and both the academic and athletic results are startlingly good. 

The vast majority finish with good grades, very few drop out, and a significant number have reached both the national team and the world’s top spot in their sport.

“Much of the reason why we succeed is the good partnership with Meråker Upper Secondary School.​ The fact they can go from being a school student to university student in the same location allows us to follow the athletes closely for up to eight years. We then have time to instill in them a good culture of training, and they can use the knowledge correctly,” says Torvik. 

Knowledge: a gamechanger

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The taste of blood and lactic acid. “All development is based on knowledge, and we do this in practise,” adds Øyvind Torvik (back). Here he is watching the students who are in the midst of the year’s toughest session at Grova Ski Centre. Photo: Bjørnar Leknes. 
​And precise knowledge is the key to success. Torvik goes so far as to call it a gamechanger. 

“There is no doubt that our strength is our knowledge base. We carry out multi-year development work based on the best available knowledge on how training should be conducted. We transfer this knowledge to the students, who can then make good and conscious decisions themselves,” he says. 

Despite the fact she is exhausted, Vilde Lange (20), from Vistdal in Møre and Romsdal, still has a smile across her face. Her focus is on cross-country skiing, and she is now a bachelor’s student in sport after finishing upper secondary school in Meråker.

“The best thing here is the environment. We are a close-knit group who are all eager to train and help each other achieve our goals. This is a big plus. We also have fantastic opportunities to train here, and the programme is awesome,” she says.

Learning from the world’s best

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Wall of Fame. The walls of Nord’s buildings in Meråker are adorned with photos of former students and students who have reached the top of the world in their sports. Photo: Bjørnar Leknes. 
There are no disadvantages to the students receiving training and guidance from former athletes who reached the highest level both nationally and internationally. Athletes such as Stig Rune Kveen, Frode Estil and Tora Berger. The walls are also covered with photos of former students who reached the world’s top level, like Eldar Rønning, Petter Northug and Emil Iversen. That kind of thing does something to you as a young student. 

“We base all development on knowledge, and we do this in practice. The results are seen on the walls here. That we also research sports and sports knowledge ourselves puts us right in the centre of it all,” says Per Øyvind Torvik, before he gives an example:

“Research shows that if you lack passion and motivation while exercising, then the training just won’t work. As this produces the hormone cortisol, which is the most detrimental hormone in the body when training. While the opposite is also true – if you happily train with drive and enthusiasm, you’ll produce testosterone, which is the most helpful hormone in the body when training. Your body then absorbs the training and you become stronger. This shows how important your attitude towards training is, and how important it is that the students learn about it. This is why knowledge is so important. It changes everything, as it says something about why we do things.”

The studies are crucial for Tora Berger’s success

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The circle is complete. Retired biathlete Tora Berger can reflect on several years as a student in Meråker. Now she herself contributes by coaching the sports students at Nord University. Photo: Bjørnar Leknes. 
Six years have passed since Tora Berger put down her skis and rifle. By then, she had brought home two Olympic gold medals, eight gold World Championships and a sea of World Cup victories. She herself is in no doubt that the fact she was able to study alongside her sporting efforts had a positive impact on her career. 

“It gave me a feeling of accomplishment when things were getting heavier on the track. Those hard times come sooner or later for everyone. It’s really good to have something else to think about, so that sport doesn’t become all-consuming. What’s more, it’s really important to have something to go back to when your career ends,” she says.

Per Øyvind Torvik couldn’t agree more.

“In addition, the studying fits well, as it has a lot to do with the knowledge you need to have to put together a good training plan and everyday life,” he says.

Although it is always heartening to see a former student ending up on the podium in a World Cup race or a major championship, it is as least as gratifying to see that the vast majority successfully reach their dreams outside the sport. Many end up as coaches, others as teachers and quite a few become important advocates in their local communities.

“The best feedback I can get is to see the students enjoying what they do, and to see their development and progress, both in the classroom and on the ski track,” says Torvik.
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Prime motivator: Per Øyvind Torvik has been a prime motivator in Meråker since 1992. Now he is working on several research projects. “Research-based knowledge provides much greater confidence in development work” he says. Photo: Bjørnar Leknes. Lead photo of article: Lene-Mari Prøven.

Facts about Nord University in Meråker

Nord University in Meråker has offered a combination of elite sports and education since 1996.
In Meråker, you can study​ a one-year Sports and Physical Education programme, a bachelor’s degree in Sportsor Development of Top-level Skills in Sports. Some students also take other subjects at Nord’s locations in Trøndelag.
All studies are at a reduced pace, and are adapted to competitions and events.
Around 400 students have studied here so far.
Nord University admits up to 16 students every year. Right now there is a total of 44 students in Meråker, studying for the one-year, bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree programme.
Nord University aims for a fifty percent gender balance of the students, and for there to be an even distribution of those focusing on cross-country skiing and biathlon.
There is an international study environment. This year with students from Finland, Sweden, Austria, Germany and Switzerland, and in previous years from countries such as Australia, the USA, Denmark and Iceland. 
The department consists of three professionals, one research fellow, one fellow from Nord/Meråker Upper Secondary school, and coaching staff from Meråker Upper Secondary School.​​​

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