By Nick Mulvenney
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Norway's Alpine skiing team won a bronze in the inaugural team event on Saturday to give the Scandinavian country 38 medals at the Pyeongchang Games, the most won by one nation at a single Winter Olympics.
The tally of 37 won by the United States at Vancouver in 2010 was the previous record but the victory over France by time differential in the 'small' final at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre allowed the Norwegians to surpass it.
Norway now leads the Pyeongchang medals table with 13 golds, 14 silvers and 11 bronze medals, bettering their previous best tally of 26 at both the 1994 Lillehammer Games and 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen put in a brilliant run to beat Frenchman Clement Noel by three 10ths of a second and secure the bronze and let out a huge roar of delight as he crossed the line.
"It's very humbling," Nestvold-Haugen said. "Even underneath the skisuit I get goosebumps talking about it, that the Alpine team of Norway could get that 38th medal."
Alpine skiers, including downhill champion Aksel Lund Svindal, have provided seven of Norway's medals with most of the rest coming from their highly successful Nordic skiers and biathlon competitors.
There were four in speed skating and a bronze in mixed curling awarded after the Russian Alexander Krushelnitsky was found guilty of doping, while Oystein Braten kicked in with a gold in the freestyle slopestyle.
"It's been a fantastic Games for Norway," Norwegian Alpine skiing great Lasse Kjus told Reuters at the Yongpyong venue.
"It's difficult to say why, the performance has been way too good. We must be doing something right."
The success of the 109-strong team in South Korea has been ascribed to various factors, including the protein boost that resulted from the accidental ordering of 15,000 rather 1,500 eggs by the team chefs in Pyeongchang.
Nestvold-Haugen, though, believed the seeds of the success were sewn when Norway last hosted the Winter Olympics at Lillehammer in 1994.
"In Norway we all grow up wanting to be winter sports athletes," he said.
"Most of us are old enough to remember the Lillehammer Olympics. It's very inspirational to watch your role models win.
"Most Norwegians wanted to become like their role models and become winter sports athletes.
"The best athletic talents in Norway go to winter sports, whereas in the U.S., the best athletic talent would go to (American) football or basketball.
"We go to Alpine, cross-country, snowboard, freestyle and skating, I think that's the answer to why we're performing so well."
The Alpine skiers said there was also a bond between all the Olympians, summer and winter, fostered at the Norwegian Olympic Sports Centre in Oslo, adding that they had already received text messages of congratulation from athletes from other sports.
"We're a small country and we kind of all know each other, which is a really cool feeling," said Nina Haver-Loeseth, another member of the team.
"We keep it simple at the Olympic centre."
Kjus, whose combined gold medal in 1994 was one of the successes that inspired the likes of Nestvold-Haugen, said the cross-fertilisation of ideas at the Olympic centre was a key factor.
"One thing that's quite different in Norway from other countries is that we have an Olympic centre where we gather all the athletes from all sports," added Kjus,
"The best sportsmen from every sport are working together and they share their knowledge. I think that's one of the criteria of the success."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O'Brien/Greg Stutchbury)