Norway is used to punching well above its weight when it comes to Olympic medals. Our national team normally rakes them in — in the winter games, that is. In the summer games, our share of medals has historically been, well, more modest. This year, however, things looked different in the run up to the games, with several prospective champions.
Sondre Nordstad Moen is one of them. He is a world-class athlete and has been the top European long-distance runner for years. In 2017, he set a new European record when he ran the Fukuoka Marathon in 2:05:48. He is generally considered the world’s fastest long-distance runner of Caucasian descent. Since his early teens, his life has centered on only one thing: Running long distances. Fast.
Then came COVID-19, and all plans were off, for Moen, just like the rest of us. The Tokyo Games were postponed, and most races were cancelled. Athletes did not get to compete, and fans did not get to see their favourites in action. (And sponsors did not get the visibility they expected).
Out of this situation came the idea for the Sondre’s marathon, a video series documenting an Olympic athlete’s road to the Tokyo Games. The series gave fans a very up-close-and-personal window into Moen’s athletic life, and the effort and sacrifices that go into becoming a world-class athlete.
COVID made a traditional production impossible. Moen lives on the road. Out of the last four months before the Tokyo Games, he spent only one week in Norway. The cost of having a photographer, let alone a production crew, follow him around would have been prohibitive. Besides, the health risk and the quarantine rules would make the logistics a nightmare.
Instead, the series was produced in an innovative and highly cost-efficient way. Andreas Ingebrigtsen, a seasoned sports reporter, is the brain behind the series. From his home office in Oslo (Amedia’s offices were closed due to COVID) he planned, produced, and edited the series, while Moen’s trainers and manager were taught how to get the footage Ingebrigtsen needed. Except for one day’s worth of shooting in Italy, the whole series is filmed with iPhones.
Coaching the coaches to shoot the right footage has been an important part of the project, Ingebrigtsen said. “I’m used to working with professional photographers and reporters. This was the complete opposite. Since I could not be there and shoot the pictures myself, quite a lot of time went into coaching and helping Sondre’s trainer to shoot.
“My main job was to teach the team basic photo techniques and how to tell a story on film. It’s been frustrating at times, but also incredibly inspirational,” he said.
Ingebrigtsen kept in close contact with Moen’s team and outlined the episodes based on this research. Then he put the script together and told the trainers what shots and interviews he needed. The footage was then uploaded to the cloud from wherever Moen happened to be in the world.
Ingebrigtsen then did a rough edit of the episode, doing extra interviews with the trainers as needed. Finally, he did the final edit, the graphics, and post production. Whenever Moen was in Norway, Ingebrigtsen did the shooting, using his iPhone to keep with the feel of the episodes.
The production method enabled Amedia to have extremely short production times for a documentary series. Episode 20, which was about the day before the Olympic race, was edited in Norway and published less than four hours after the interviews were shot in Japan.
Ingebrigtsen has been a sports reporter for 20 years and followed athletes closely, but it has never been like this. “Working so closely with a team and an athlete has given me new perspectives. These guys really sacrificed everything to become the best,” he said. “For example, I went to Sondre’s apartment. It had one sofa, one bed. and one TV. Nothing else. I asked why his apartment was so bare. He told me, ‘You should never be comfortable at home. My competitors don’t have nice homes. If you like your home too much, you won’t train well enough.’ I am shocked and inspired by Sondre’s dedication and grateful that he let me into his weird world where being the fastest marathon runner is the only goal.”
This close relationship and the fact that it is Moen’s team who shot the video raises some questions about journalistic independence. This is why we call the series a video blog. It is close and personal, and that’s what makes it unique.
The series represents a pivot in content for Amedia’s Direktesport.no vertical. So far, we have specialised in live-streaming huge numbers of sporting events to fans. This is typically content with an extremely short shelf life.
This new kind of content has connected with our audience, with more binging and long-tail viewing than before. Helge Birkelund, director of sports rights, said, “The vast majority of our streaming offering is live football games. We also stream running competitions, but the TV series of Sondre’s path to the Olympics has added great value to our traditional offering. It has been positive both in terms of subscription sales and viewership. Behind-the-scenes footage of an extreme athlete as Sondre has also raised attention to an extended audience, we believe.”
How did it go? The men’s marathon was one of the last events on the last day of the Olympics. Ruling Olympics champion and world record holder Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya won. Moen struggled in the Japanese summer heat and ended up in 40th place. Of course, you can get Moen’s personal take on the race and his own performance in episode 21.
Norway won eight medals in Tokyo, four of which were gold. Karsten Warholm broke the 400m hurdles world record to boot. We ended in 20th place in the medal count. Not bad for a country of five million people living in snow half the year.