Today, we continue our 2021 series by introducing you to Sofus Heggemsnes, a 20-year-old who snagged the last available Olympic spot as an all-arounder at worlds last year.
Sofus doesn’t come from a sporty family. He started playing soccer as a kid, but would often flip around and do cartwheels on the field, and one of the soccer moms watching him told his mom she should put him in gymnastics. At first, Sofus trained once a week for fun, but he quickly became the best in his class, and so he kicked his training up a notch to begin his journey to the Olympic Games.
At ten years old, Sofus began training with Valentyn Skrypin, a Ukrainian who had been newly hired in Oslo at the time. He wanted to make the gym a fun environment for the boys he was coaching, and this was perfect for Sofus, who says he doesn’t have much talent, but thinks a combination of working hard and having fun in the gym is why he competes so well. Sofus always has a great attitude at practice and at meets, and instead of looking at his scores or worrying about judging, he celebrates his good routines with a little dance at the end, which his coach considers his biggest advantage as a competitor.
Sofus made his major international debut at the junior European Championships in 2016, when he was 16 years old. Fresh off of his junior national all-around title, he came to Euros ready to go, and earned a 42nd-place finish in all-around qualifications.
Later that year, he helped lead the Norwegian men’s team to the gold medal at Northern European Championships alongside 2016 Olympian Stian Skjerahaug. He also won the all-around silver here, as well as the silver on pommels and the bronze on p-bars, and quickly became one to watch going into the 2020 quad.
Sofus became a senior competitor in 2017, placing second at nationals that summer before making his international senior debut at the challenge cup in Varna, where he finished seventh in the pommel horse final before going on to make his worlds debut a month later. He again won the silver medal at nationals in 2018, and he went on to finish tenth all-around in the individual competition at Euros.
The Norwegian men had an incredible competition at worlds in Doha that year, with Stian Skjerahaug finishing 35th in all-around qualifications while Sofus was just two tenths behind in 40th. The two propelled the team to 22nd place, securing a team spot for 2019 worlds.
In 2019, Sofus finally reached his goal of becoming the senior Norwegian all-around champion, winning the floor, pommels, and high bar titles along the way. Another dream came true when he won the bronze medal at the Szombathely Challenge Cup with a fantastic kaz 1½ and a Rudi to get on the podium over both Oleg Verniaiev and Igor Radivilov. And just about a week before he was set to leave for Stuttgart, Sofus had the best all-around performance of his career, winning gold at the Northern European Championships with an 80.950.
His success in 2019 was leading up to an incredible world championships, and in Stuttgart, Sofus hit all six events with excellent execution, with scores above an 8 on every event but pommels, and an 8.5+ on vault, rings, and high bar. He finished his competition with a 79.623, a pretty solid score for him, but performing in the second out of eight subdivisions, he had a long wait before finding out if it would be enough to make it to Tokyo.
At first, it wasn’t. When the competition concluded, the FIG announced Andrey Likhovitskiy of Belarus as the final all-around qualifier to the Olympic Games, with a score of 79.697. Sofus was less than a tenth away from making it happen, but the good news was that with Japan qualifying a full team to Tokyo, it freed up the host country invitation to the next-best all-arounder at worlds. A few weeks after the competition, the FIG confirmed that Sofus had officially qualified to the Games.
Though he was set back in his training by the coronavirus, Sofus got back into the gym in May, and is working on some big upgrades to his program, including a kaz double full on vault.
His goal is to make the all-around final, and perhaps the vault final as well, in Tokyo, and he’s got a lot of support along the way, including from Harald Wigaard, who secured Norway’s best Olympic performance ever with his fifth-place pommels finish at Tokyo 1964.
Article by Lauren Hopkins