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Famous Icelanders You Should Know About

Iceland’s population consists of roughly 340,000 people. When you think of ‘famous Icelanders’, the singer Björk Guðmundsdóttir pops to mind, however, there are also some other equally exceptional individuals who are worth mentioning. Here we’ll look at a range of famous Icelandic figures who have contributed to a range of different fields, such as sport, academia, sports, technology and politics and are a wonderful part of Icelandic culture.

Sports: Iceland performs very well in strength-based sports like lifting and endurance. However, the national sport in Iceland is Handball. Since winning a Silver medal in the 2008 Summer Beijing Olympic Games, Iceland’s national team is viewed as one of the best Handball teams in the world. The following Icelanders have made huge contributions to the sporting world. 

Alexander Petersson (1980-)

Alexander Petersson is an Icelandic handball player of Baltic German and Latvian origin, who currently plays for the national handball team. In 2010, the Icelandic Sport Press Association voted him the Icelandic Sportsperson of the year. 

Jón Páll Sigmarsson (1960-1993)

Jón Páll Sigmarsson is an Icelandic strongman from Hafnarfjordur, in Iceland. He was the first man to win the World’s Strongest Man title four times. He is credited for contributing to the development of Iceland’s national identity and considered globally to be one of the greatest strongmen of all time.

Vala Flosadóttir (1978-)

Former pole vault athlete Vala Flosadóttir from Reykjavík is the only Icelandic woman to win an Olympic medal. She set five world junior records and two world indoor records in the late nineties. Arguably, her greatest athletic performance was the bronze medal she won at the 2000 Olympics, with a winning distance of 4.0 metres.

Politics: The politics of Iceland takes place in the framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic. The parliament is called “Althing” Iceland. It has a president who is the head of state and represents the country; the president’s duties are largely ceremonial, such as performing diplomatic services. Comparatively, the prime minister serves as the head of government in a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. The following politicians are influential figures who have shaped the political world, both in the past and in the present.

Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson (1968-)

Presidential term: 1 August 2016 –

Icelandic politician Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson is the current President of Iceland, serving as the 6th President since 2016. Before his election, he was a History Lecturer at the University of Iceland, specialising in modern Icelandic History. He has published a number of works ranging from Icelandic presidency, the 2008-2011 Icelandic financial crisis to the on the Cod Wars.

Interesting Fact: The Cod Wars (1958-1976), were a series of confrontations between the UK and Iceland on the fishing rights in the North Atlantic. The dispute ended with Icelandic victory.

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir (1942-)

Prime Minister of Iceland (2009–2013)

Icelandic politician Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir made history as the first openly lesbian female head of government when she was elected in 2009 as the Prime Minister of Iceland. She was listed among the 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes. After eight successive re-elections and being a member of the Althing (parliament) in 1978, in 2012 she retired from politics.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir (1930-)

Presidential term: 1 August 1980 – 1 August 1996

The fourth president of Iceland, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, was the world’s first democratically elected female president, as well as the world’s longest-serving female head of state of any country in the world. She remains to-date Iceland’s only female president. In the present day, she serves as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and a Member of the Club of Madrid.

Literary and Business: Icelanders are a creative bunch. They have a rich literary tradition dating back to the ancient sagas and with award-winning modern films, such as ‘Angels of the Universe’ directed by Friðrik Þór Friðriksson in 2000. The following figures have made an exceptional mark in the literary and/or the business world in Iceland.

Halldór Laxness (1902-1998)

Halldór Laxness is an award-winning Icelandic writer. He has published poetry, newspaper articles, plays, short stories and novels. One of his most notable works is Kristnihald undir Jökli (Under the Glacier / Christianity at the Glacier) published in 1968. It is often described as a "visionary novel”.  He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1955 and the Sonning Prize in 1969. To date, he is the only Icelandic Nobel Laureate.  

Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson (1962)

Successful writer, scientist and businessman Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson is a notable Icelandic figure. His critically acclaimed books have been published in over 20 different languages. He has been awarded the O. Henry Award and the Icelandic Literary Award as well having been nominated for numerous other prestigious literary awards. His business ventures have been equally successful; he is the founder and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc. During his tenure at Sony, he was responsible for the introduction of the PlayStation video game console.

Arts: Although Iceland has a relatively small population, since the 1980s, contemporary pop and indie culture have been significantly impacted by Icelandic musicians, such as Björk, Slowbow, and the Sugarcubes. Musicians regularly perform in bars and cafes throughout Iceland, meaning you might even be able to see a performance for freeThe following figures are a fun mixture of accomplished Icelandic creatives who have contributed to the Arts through their music or acting.

Stefan Karl Stefansson (1975-2018)

Stefán Karl Stefánsson from Hafnarfjordur, in Iceland, was an Icelandic actor and singer. You may know him from his role as the comedic villain Robbie Rotten from ‘Lazytown’ (a children's television series).

Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (1988-)

Icelandic actor and professional strongman, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson is the first winner of the Arnold Strongman Classic, World’s Strongest Man and Europe’s Strongest Man - all in the same year. He is also well known for his role as Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane in the HBO series Game of Thrones for five seasons.

Björk Guðmundsdóttir (1965-)

Björk Guðmundsdóttir is an individual of many talents. She is an Icelandic singer, songwriter, composer, actress, record producer, and DJ. Her career spans over four decades. She bilingual, but predominantly sings in English. She is famed for her unique voice and ability to convey feelings with emotionally poignant performances. For her performance in the movie ‘Dancer in the Dark,’ she won the Best Actress Award, at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000.