Norway: A relatively small nation with big World Cup results
BEAVER CREEK — Sure, Norwegians are best known for Nordic skiing, but when it comes to alpine and the World Cup, they’ve really made a name for themselves.
It started back in 2006, when Aksel Lund Svindal won his first World Cup downhill. By 2007, Svindal was the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships downhill gold-medalist. Now a decade later, he’s still the man to beat, say those who plan on competing against him this weekend here at the Birds of Prey World Cup races.
“Obviously Aksel is strong,” American downhiller Steven Nyman said when asked who the tough competitors would be this season. “He’s old, he’s coming back, but he’s strong.”
Svindal, who turns 35 on Dec. 26, tore a ligament in his right knee in January of 2016 while competing on the Hahnenkamm course in Kitzbuehel, Austria. The day before the crash, he had won the super-G.
By December of that same year, he was back on the World Cup podium with a third-place finish in the downhill in Val d`Isere, France, and a second-place finish in the downhill in Val Gardena, Italy.
Last weekend, Svindal placed third in the downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta.
“Being on the podium in World Cup races is fun, so that’s where you want to be,” Svindal said from the bottom of the Birds of Prey course on Wednesday, Nov. 29. “I always feel pressure, but that pressure is mostly because you want to do well.”
Returning from injury is a familiar feeling for Svindal. In 2007, here on the Birds of Prey course, Svindal suffered a devastating crash which kept him hospitalized for the entire season. His road to recovery was charted in the short film “Blink of an Eye” from Anitmedia, in which Svindal talked about getting back to Beaver Creek the next season.
“I was not able to overcome the fact that I was scared,” he said.
Facing those fears, Svindal came back strong in the downhill.
“I was fast and I ended up winning the race, so it was a great day at work,” he said.
Svindal remained a threat in the downhill for years to come, regaining his status as World Champion in 2013.
Around that time, however, another Norwegian speed skier was catching everyone’s attention, as well.
Between March of 2012, when he won his first World Cup super-G, and March of 2015, when the World Cup season wrapped up with finals in Meribel, France, Kjetil Jansrud won a total of 10 World Cup downhill and super-G races, including the coveted Kitzbuehel downhill, prized by many as the highest achievement in the sport of ski racing. And last weekend, as alpine ski racing’s World Cup speed season was getting underway in Lake Louise, Jansrud won the super-G.
“I’ll take the self confidence with me (from Lake Louise to Beaver Creek),” Jansrud said Wednesday. “It will get me some breathing room going into this weekend. I have nothing to prove. I kind of showed everyone in Lake Louise that I was on it, even myself.”
Finally, in Norway’s triangle offense — where Svindal and Jansrud would represent Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen — the Dennis Rodman of the group would have to be 25-year-old Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, who has become somewhat of a regular on the World Cup podium in recent years.
“Two years ago, he was the best-ranked super-G skier in the world,” Svindal said of Kilde.
Svindal said the team’s training regiment has led to their impressive results.
“We’re competitive because we’re always good in training,” Svindal said. “The training is high level and we spend a lot of time together. Even in the summer, we work out together.”
Jansrud said the team culture has been very positive for many years now, which has reflected in their results.
“We have a very strong friendship off the hill, as well,” Jansrud said. “But, then again, we’re a competitive bunch, and no one wants to be the slowest guy in training. I think that, every day, makes us a little bit better.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.