Nine AU students were competing in the Olympics – one of them won a gold medal

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Nine current and three former AU students were among the athletes representing Denmark at the Olympic Games in Tokyo - over ten percent of the Danish OL team. AU Elitesport program director Jens Bundgaard explained, this is living proof that it’s possible to combine elite sport and an academic career.

2021.08.09 | Asger Søndergaard Nielsen

Nine students and three alums from Aarhus University are competing in the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Photo: Rarrarorro

Aarhus University was strongly represented at the the Olympic Games that took place in Tokyo. Nine current and three former students from AU competed under the Danish flag in the 2020 Olympics. The twelve AU athletes were competing in ten different disciplines. 

Anne-Marie Rindom, a MSc Sport Science student from Aarhus University, even won a gold medal in women's laser radial.

Find out more in the box on the right.

AU athletes - discipline and placement

Sailing:

  • Anne-Marie Rindom (MSc Sport Science) - Laser Radial - gold
  • Ida Marie Baad (MSc Business Administration) and Marie Thusgaard Olsen (BSc Economics and Management) – 49er FX - 8th place
  • Jonas Warrer (alum) – 49er - 5th place    

BMX:

  • Simone Tetsche Christensen (MSc Medicine) - BMX - 6th place

Athletics:

  • Anna Emilie Møller (BSc Medicine) – Steeplechase - 21st place
  • Thijs Nijhuis (MSc Medicine) – Marathon - 70th place
  • Mette Graversgaard (BSc Molecular Biology) and Louise Østergaard (MA Educational Theory and Practice) – 4x100 women- Danish record, but the team didn't make it to the final
  • Simon Hansen (BA International Business Communication) – 4x100 men - Danish record, but the team didn't make it to the final
  • Sara Slott (alum) – 400 m hurdles - out of the competition due to a fall in the semi finals    

Shooting:

  • Steffen Olsen (alumne) – Rifle 50 m - 28th place

Source: AU Elitesport

A winning combination

All of the Danish OL athletes are or have been part of the AU Elitesport program. The program provides guidance and support to students who are pursuing a national or international elite sports career alongside their studies and helps them to achieve the right balance between academics and athletics. The impressive delegation of Danish Olympic athletes from AU goes to show that it’s possible to pursue an academic career while performing at the highest possible level in your sport. As AU Elitesport program director Jens Bundgaard explained:

“They’re following the same academic path as many of their peers, but at the same time, they have an elite career where there’s no room for compromise. In fact, they have to strive to be uncompromising – but it can definitely be done.”

After the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, AU Elitesport performed a survey in collaboration with the Danish Olympic committee and Team Denmark. It revealed that 46 of the 120 participating Danish athletes were students, corresponding to 38% of the Danish delegation. And what’s more, 58% of the Danish medals were won by students. 

“A lot of people say that if you want to reach the top of your sport, you have to dedicate yourself to it completely and more or less renounce everything else. Our survey showed that this isn’t necessarily the case,” Jens Bundgaard said. He went on to explain that the athletes in the AU Elitesport program perform at least as well as other AU students academically.

According to Bundgaard, combining an academic and an athletic career can actually improve an athlete’s performance.

“It’s possible for the athletes to say that their sport has the highest priority at a certain point without that having to mean that they underprioritize their education. What it means is that they can choose not to compromise on their athletic performance during times like that. I believe that it gives them a sense of stability, satisfaction and meaning to be able to integrate their long-term plan into their daily lives,” Bundgaard concluded.

The university must be inclusive

AU Elitesport is governed by the Committee on Education, which is chaired by pro-rector Berit Eika. She’s delighted that so many AU students are participating in the Olympics. She also believes their success testifies to Aarhus University’s diversity.

“Diversity is an important value for Aarhus University. Our goal is to be an educational institution that makes room for a wide variety of students. In this case, young people who pursue and excel in a career alongside their studies. When there’s academic potential, we will do what we can to nurture it,” Eika said.

But the AU Elitesport program’s work with student athletes is about more than just gold medals. It’s also a learning opportunity for the university, Eika believes.

“We have to be able to accommodate a very diverse student body, and I think we’ve learned a lot from AU Elitesport in relation to how we can help and support students in overcoming obstacles. It’s been a positive experience for us from day one,” the pro-rector said.

The experience gained in connection with providing guidance and support for athletes in the AU Elitesport program also benefits other students, she explained:

“It means that we’re getting better at helping students overcome obstacles, regardless of whether the obstacle is the Olympics or something else, such as an illness, for example. It’s not just about granting exemptions; it’s also a question of providing guidance at times when things might seem unmanageable. At such times, we have to be able to provide the support that enables students to continue their studies,” Eika said.

Currently, about 300 students are affiliated with the AU Elitesport programme.

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