Bente Bjørnsen Sherlock
For nearly two decades, Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud has had a tremendous impact on international alpine ski racing through his outstanding ski technique, generous personality and impressive results. The World Cup downhill race in Kvitfjell, Norway, on March 5 will be his last competition.
On his way home from a pre-Kvitfjell World Cup training camp in Hafjell, Norway last week, Jansrud spoke with Ski Racing Media about the path from being an active kid to becoming a skiing legend. During the one-and-a-half hour long phone interview, he generously shared fun memories, in-depth thoughts and considerations of what made him a skier of the magnitude many in the skiing world appreciate and admire.
This ability to give of himself, to share and to analyze are the central ingredients in the making of this great athlete. He will be remembered not only for what he accomplished on the hill but for these generous characteristics.
Kjetil Jansrud was born in Stavanger, on the Norwegian west coast, in 1985. His family moved inland to the small town of Vinstra in the Gudbrandsdal valley when Kjetil was three years old. Vinstra is located little over 30 kilometers up the valley from the finish area of the Kvitfjell Olympic and World Cup downhill race course, but the Kvitfjell ski area did not yet exist back then. However, if you drove about half an hour up the mountain side above Vinstra, you would come to Gålå, a popular place for cross-country skiing and with a small alpine ski area.
“Kjetil cross-country skied almost 10 kilometers all on his own up at Gålå when he was three years old. We thought that was quite a formidable achievement,” Jan Jansrund, Kjetil’s father laughingly tells Ski Racing during a phone conversation about his son’s journey into international ski racing. The father became one of the ski coaches who played a major role during Kjetil’s early years until he started training with the national team from about 15-16 years of age. Jan continues his story about the three-year-old Kjetil: “He fell a lot, but he did not want any help getting up. He wanted to do it on his own!”
Kjetil also has fond memories of the very early beginning, growing up with his parents and three siblings in an area of Vinstra where small cross-country ski races were organized for the neighborhood children.
“I wasn’t very old, but I remember that I enjoyed, already then, that type of competition,” Kjetil says with joy in his voice. “To ski in these small races, to wear a bib, get a warm drink, and ski while being timed. I felt that this was fun! I competed particularly against a boy named Terje Fjellseth, he was my good childhood buddy who lived down the street. He was a great cross-country skier. That childhood play, with that type of competition, is a very happy memory. I also remember clearly when I got my first alpine skis for Christmas from my aunt and uncle.”
Kjetil was six years old when he was given his first alpine skis, “and he did not take them back off again,” his father says. Kjetil and his friend Terje skied a lot around in the garden; going “herringbone” uphill, then skiing back down, over the snowy ridge left by the snowplow along the road, jumping, and continuing on to the other side of the road. Over and over.
“Terje and Kjetil played well together and were out in the fields and came back with snow from top to toe. I think he got a lot of balance training through playing on skis like that, all the way into his youth. I believe he gained some balancing skills, which would’ve been hard to make up later,” Jan explains.
The Peer Gynt Alpinklubb was started in 1990, and Kjetil joined the ski club two years later when he was seven years old.
“It was a nice and relaxed atmosphere in the ski club back then. A lot of parents and kids around the ski area at Gålå, grilling hot dogs together, a bit laid back. And a nice ski area with a somewhat flat hill, very good for training when you are young. If it is too steep when you are training, you brake a lot,” Jan points out, implying that only learning to slow down, and not to create speed, does not make fast ski racers.
Kjetil was an active kid, according to his father Jan and mother Inger Helen. He participated in soccer, badminton, judo, ski jumping, cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, and some volleyball.
According to Kjetil, it just felt like he filled his days with various activities he enjoyed, and he cannot remember specifically choosing alpine skiing over the other sports. But from age seven, the main focus became alpine skiing. “That is what I was best at, and that is what we did the most,” he says. At the same time, he is very grateful for the effort all parents and other volunteers put into creating great opportunities for the variety of children’s sports activities in the small Vinstra community.
The Olympics come to town
Before the 1994 Winter Olympics took place in Lillehammer, Norway, several venues had to be built – including the Kvitfjell and Hafjell alpine ski areas.
Did those Games make an impact on a young Jansrud?
“More than I would admit,” Kjetil says in a friendly tone of voice. “I remember fragments from the Olympics, I was eight then, and I remember we walked over the ice as in a procession.”
This was the way the thousands of spectators arrived at the Kvitfjell alpine skiing arena during the Olympics, walking from the temporary parking in the fields, across the ice on the frozen river banks, to arrive at the finish area.
“There were buses from Vinstra, we walked over the ice in minus 20 (Celsius) to see the Olympic downhill. To this date, I do not remember the results! I have seen the result list, so I do know the results, but I do not remember that eight year old me was very interested in the results. I do remember the setting and the atmosphere, that people were so excited and that there were so many thousands of people there. I think, in a way, that this has affected me, at least so that the Olympic part of my career has become very important to me. And I think that is great, how something I experienced at such a young age, still holds a valuable spot in my sporting-heart.”
The building of the world-class Kvitfjell ski area has played an essential role in Kjetil’s development as a ski racer. It did not take long before Kvitfjell became his new home arena.
“Some of my greatest skiing memories were when we arrived early in Kvitfjell on the weekends, when I was 12-13 years old. We got on the lift as the first ones, placed our parents on the various jumps down Kvitfjell, and then we were allowed to just ski. As fast as we wanted to! Without gates or anything, it was just so incredibly fun!” Kjetil speaks with great joy. “That might have been an early start for the joy of skiing fast.”
Hanging out with friends
The positive atmosphere in the Peer Gynt Alpinklubb, with several skiers, several coaches, and the ski club parents always helping out, laid the ground for good friendships and was important for many. Several world-class skiers ended up coming from these age groups in the small, local club: the telemark World Champions Sigrid Rykhus and Eirik Rykhus, the dominating junior alpine racers Mons Bjørge and Mikkel Bjørge (Mikkel won the 2006 Junior World Championship in slalom, while Mons placed seventh), as well as Kjetil.
Kjetil remembers in particular skiing together with ski club friends Mons, Mikkel, Sjur Øfsteng and Siw Bente Dahl (now Friborg) during childhood years.
Over time, a small powerhouse of a training group formed as some of them were eager to train more than the others in the ski club; Kjetil, Sjur, Mons and Mikkel. Kjetil has fond memories of this period during his late childhood and early teenage years:
“Instead of going skiing and wishing you had time to spend with your friends at home, you had your friends there, while skiing. In a way there was less focus on the ski training itself, and just as much to hang out with great buddies,” Kjetil says.
Coach and father Jan remembers how the four boys enjoyed being social together on the T-bar between training runs. Jan describes the training group as a very robust group, the guys were tough, and nobody skipped any practices. Together with Jan, the other head coach of the group was ski racing enthusiast Amund Rudi.
“Amund and I sat and talked for almost an hour a day during those years. We didn’t know much about ski coaching and technique, so we just had to start from scratch. We started with the first-year ski instructor course, then we added on the B, C and D coaching courses as time moved on – about at the same pace as the skiers’ development,” Jan explains.
During 1999-2000, Jan Jansrud and Amund Rudi completed the level D coaching course, the highest level alpine ski coaching education offered through the Norwegian Ski Federation (now renamed “Level 4”). As they completed the course, Kjetil turned 15 years old.
“That was the policy in the ski club back then, to educate the parents as coaches,” said Jan. The availability of coaches was usually low in the smaller clubs, but parents stuck around and most coaches in the smaller ski clubs worked for free. Enthusiasm and volunteer work was the driving force. (And still is to a large degree in most sports clubs in Norway.)
When asked who has meant a lot to him through the years, Kjetil says that many coaches contribute to a skier’s success over time, because success is not created in a few hundred days. It comes from hard work over several years, and maybe with various coaches involved over time. However, coach Rudi has a special place in Kjetil’s heart:
“Amund Rudi worked in Peer Gynt Alpinklubb from when I was a small boy. The special thing about him, is that he did not have children of his own who were skiers. So most of his job was on a voluntary basis. He wanted to be the ski coach for a club and worked to start that project. Got people together and had that passion for alpine skiing. I can understand that for my father, he had me, he had all the motivation to go out on the hill and do all of this. But Amund didn’t have that aspect, and I think that is impressive! I owe people a lot, from the ski federation and all the coaches I have had through the years and who have been fantastic people. I do not have a bad word to say about anyone. But just this about Amund and how the ski club was run by him, by the various parents and him, I think was impressive!
“Out of all of those who read Ski Racing, I assume there are a few around the world who work hard for clubs, who have no other motivation than that they wish to create positive settings for children. And those people we need to pay tribute to, because we are completely dependent on them!” Kjetil states with gratitude.
Skills through drills
In addition to the support and input he received from people around him, how did Kjetil become the outstanding young skier he already was in his mid teens?
“It is due to the sum of many smaller things,” Kjetil says. “My high activity level and a lot of skiing from very, very early age have been major factors. Now that I am older, I see that there was an intense training plan and activity around us in alpine skiing, until I headed off with the national team. The number of hours my father, Amund, and other coaches, as well as Mons and Mikkel and Sjur and that whole group were involved in – it was on a relatively extreme level. It would’ve been extreme even today. So at age 15, I was already well equipped for what would become a good career.”
Coach and father Jan agrees, and also pinpoints how they spent a lot of time practicing specific skills through drills and detailed focus.
“We did a lot of skill-specific training. During many seasons, they trained 50% freeskiing. You start with the right width between the skis, and then you have to angle your knee and add pressure. And you feel that your shin is in the front of the boot. That could be one exercise. Next you ski all the turns down the hill and count how many turns you manage to press on your foot so that you feel your shin towards the front of the boot, that could be a type of drill,” Jan says and eagerly describes a whole list of drills with detailed focus. “We skied a lot with lifted inside ski, for example, so they got good balance in that position. Because I have seen quite a few World Cup skiers, at least earlier on, that were leaning in too much.”
Jan compares the focus on training specific skills on skis with what soccer players do in practice. “They divide it up into components. Practice their shot for half an hour. If you want to learn how to tackle, you have to practice to tackle, you don’t learn that through just playing on the field. You have to practice it 10,000 times over in a corner in order to master it.”
The skiers knew the focus and intention of every training and every run. A few years back, Kjetil talked about the importance of this attention to purpose in training at a ski coaches’ seminar hosted by the Norwegian Ski Federation. Amund and Jan were also focused on every detail while coaching during the ski training sessions, as well as the right progression and need for repetition.
“When it comes to courses, how traverse can you set them? You have to look at the skill level. Because there is no use in setting a course so traverse that the skiers just are skiing unclean turns. You have to start with a more narrow course-set, see that it works ok, and then pull the gates out a bit wider,” Jan says, as an example.
“You also have to dare to try new things. We jumped around down in the river here, on big boulders. Down in there, they were jumping from turn to turn, from boulder to boulder, left leg to right leg.” Many of the exercises worked well, but one Jan regrets:
“We were on inline skates during summer. We went to the top of Valdresflya,” which is a mountain plateau with a narrow road full of tourist traffic during summers. “And they skied giant slalom turns from there, down all the hills to Gjende – with oncoming car traffic!” Jan laughs now, though he regrets the danger he put the boys in at that time. “We have pushed some limits that most people will not do.”
The 1999 World Championships in Vail and Beaver Creek were a tremendous success for the Norwegian alpine team, with a record number of medals. However, the Norwegian Ski Federation realized after this, that there was a need for more emphasis on young recruits. Jørund Li, who was the Norwegian men’s national team coach from 1996 through the 1999 season, and a ski academy coach from 1990-1996, was named “national coach” by the Norwegian Ski Federation. His main responsibilities were working with the recruitment of skiers, coaches’ education, junior national teams and youth programs. The work included determining what competence the ski clubs and training groups around Norway needed in order to develop top skiers. This included a realization of how much work actually had to be done in order for an alpine skier to reach the top internationally in future years. Three of the participants during the top-level D coaching course led by Li in 1999-2000, with a focus on developing elite alpine skiers, happened to be Amund Rudi, Jan Jansrud and Robbie Reid. – Reid is now known as the superb sports scientist for the Attacking Vikings.
This renewed focus started in 2000, when Kjetil was 15 years old. The timing was perfect for Kjetil, his coaches and training group. “Jan described to me once: ‘We were at the platform, the train arrived and we jumped on,’” Li says with a chuckle during a phone interview with Ski Racing. Jan Jansrud also thinks they had a bit of luck with the timing, in addition to the building of the international venue Kvitfjell practically down the road from their home. However, a bit of luck does not take away from the tremendous work Kjetil and the people around him laid down and the skiing skill-set Kjetil possessed already at this age.
Did Li see anything special in Kjetil when he came around at age 15?
“The energy and the joy of skiing! When there are sparks in somebody’s eyes and they refuse to go inside, and just wants to ski more and more… That is usually a good sign. You never have a guarantee for who will become a great skier, but you can think in your mind that ’ok, here there is something special’. And I remember saying that to Jan as well,” Li says.
“Kjetil had a ‘tool box’ as a ski racer, a technical repertoire, tactically wise assessments, some kind of smoothness in the way he performed his skiing technique. Kjetil, when he skis his absolute best, it is so that you watch in awe; ’Is it possible to ski that fast!’
“Many people around him have done something right, many people have probably had an effect on his skiing. But first and foremost, it is Kjetil who has built this, with his own will and drive. He is also a ’brainy skier’ – smart, a lot of tactical decisions on lines, where to start the pressure and so on, where he has some extreme skills,” Li says, with a touch of reverence in his voice, and continues:
“Everyone who reaches a high level constantly works and strives forward, seeks improvement, efficient solutions, try and fail, and think that is fun. They never give up! That passion is the key word here, and which enables you to learn. If you possess the same passion that Kjetil has, then that learning will also follow.
“Both Jan Jansrud and Kjetil Jansrud were very bold and active people. People who never give up, who keep on working with excitement and energy. Plus I experienced (in them) something I see in everyone making it all the way to the top: They possess a humbleness and curiosity when it comes to learning. Clever people, but who at the same time ask questions and listen. That is a good base for valuable discussions. Being curious about how one can do things better, how one can ski faster, how one can develop more. That is the training culture one wants to be part of, in my opinion.
“Also, Jan realized that as the local coaches on a daily basis, they needed to be a little bit ahead of the athletes’ development. That they could acquire new knowledge and competence, because it is the everyday-work that is most important. The quality you put into work every single day is what makes up the greatest difference at the end,” Li says.
Li gives great praise to Kjetil’s ski club for all its work and its culture, as well as the work laid down by coaches Jan Jansrud and Amund Rudi.
Already at age 15, Kjetil got to take part as an “intern” at training camps with the junior national team, plus take part in regional training camps hosted by the national ski federation. The regional camps offered types of ski training that could be difficult for individual ski clubs to organize and that are necessary for the development of ski racers; speed training, focus on certain technical elements, full race-length courses and so on.
The most common route in Norway for ski racers at his age at that time, was to attend a ski academy. Kjetil, on the other hand, chose to stay with his local training group, work closely with the local high-school and take responsibility for his own school work while he was traveling. “My mom and dad hinted that I probably would get a national team spot early, and that it would be better to stay in the setting I knew, rather than to move to attend a ski academy, since I would be traveling a lot anyhow.
“These were some fantastic years, where I got to participate (with the team) and travel a bit around the world. And I got to compete against – in training – people who were as much as 10 years older than me, and who took me in in a great way,” Kjetil says.
These early ski team years, and as the youngest one in the group, also provided Kjetil with some hard-earned experiences. “It helped shape me in a very good way,” he says. “On the junior national team and during that age group, that is where you should learn about authority, how to relate to people who are older than you, and how you balance chasing good results with being part of a common group.” The skills he learned both on and off the hill would turn out useful.
At age 19, during the 2004-05 season, Kjetil dominated the technical events in the Europa Cup, winning the 2005 slalom, giant slalom and overall European Cups. He shared the overall cup victory with the five-year-older Austrian Hannes Reichelt.
The following winter, at age 20, Kjetil impressed with a 4th-place finish in the Beaver Creek, Colo., World Cup slalom competition in Dec. 2005. He followed up with two top-10 World Cup results in Jan., 2006 before his Olympic debut at the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy. However, his first Olympics did not go as hoped: In the giant slalom first run, Kjetil broke his thumb. Surgery and a long break awaited, before he finally could get back into training in the summer.
“During that summer, I got a beginning prolapse in my back. There are probably many who read Ski Racing and are active alpine skiers who recognize this situation: Clinically, you have a lot of pain. However, in diagnostic pictures they see that there is something going on there, but medically they cannot ascertain a large injury,” Kjetil says.
“I had so much pain, it was crazy, so I was out for a year and a half. Which really was the period when I, more or less, was supposed to have my break-through in the World Cup because I already had that 4th place and was skiing my way into top-15 in the slalom cup.”
By the time Kjetil returned, FIS had changed the ski-length regulation for slalom skis from 155 to 165 meters, which Kjetil found to be challenging. The giant slalom equipment changes were not equally challenging for him. After years of work, he finally got his first giant slalom World Cup podium in 2009, and at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, he won his first Olympic medal with a silver in giant slalom.
Kjetil focused on slalom and giant slalom until the 2014-15 season, before he moved his focus over to the speed events. He says that, at first, his back injury wasn’t a defining factor, but as his back problems increased over the years the change in focus had to come: “I have accomplished a lot, but I have not accomplished everything. So this injury was a bit … It is sad that I could not dominate as much in slalom and giant slalom as I had envisioned to do for a while back then, while I was leading in technique and the development of skiing. That was a good period, back then …”
Marius Arnesen, who was in charge of the Norwegian men’s national team during the 2005-2010 seasons, and who was the Norwegian men’s national downhill team coach 2000-2005, also spoke with Ski Racing during a phone interview last week and praises Kjetil’s technical skills. Arnesen says Kjetil played a great part in pushing the development of how tight of a turn radius racers can create, and in how short a time they can complete a carving turn.
“What he can do on a pair of skis is quite extreme. How he can get a ski to function. He has something that very few have had through the years; a feeling for the surface, for turns, for everything,” Arnesen says.
“Kjetil was quite patient during this period when he was injured, and matured, because when he came out on the other side, he understood more of what it would take in order to perform at the very top level. ‘In order for me to win a giant slalom competition, I have to get this much stronger’. It is from then on, from 2009, that he goes out and becomes a star, first in giant slalom and then in the speed events. What is a bit sad, is that we during those (injury) years lost a good slalom skier, because he was extreme in slalom as well. So that is what his injury-break during that age affected,” Arnesen concludes.
Moving to speed
After the 2010 Olympics, both Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil made an equipment change to HEAD. “We made some new boots, really for Aksel, and I wanted to try them as well. They were a mix of the Atomic boots we were familiar with and HEAD. I had always skied a lot of super-G and downhill, but had always lost a lot of time in the gliding stretches, and suddenly this was solved almost overnight. So that good ‘feel’ that should imply that I would be fast in downhill and super-G, it got to come into play after this. The following season I achieved the three podiums in Kvitfjell, which was quite fun.
“So that was the beginning of the speed-thing. But my back problems have, over time, also been a definite factor, because the pain when skiing slalom and giant slalom has been so strong that it has become easier for me to ski downhill and super-G,” Kjetil explains.
Looking back, Kjetil says additional skills had to be added as he grew older, past the early national team years, in order to succeed as an athlete. He points out the intelligence he believes is helpful to have in order to succeed over time as a ski racer:
“When you have had a pretty long career, you have seen a lot of skiers come and go. But you have also seen a lot of coaches come and go. And you have seen systems come and go, as well as thoughts about training. If you as an athlete are 100% dependent on the people around you, if you allow yourself to be affected by the coaches around you and do not take part in affecting those coaches in return, you will receive a great variety of input all along the way. So when I talk about intelligence, it means that you need to understand what it takes to succeed. And you need to be smart enough to also take the responsibility to do exactly that. – At some point in time you need to understand that you are responsible for your own development and rather use the ones around you as a support network that can help make you better. Instead of waiting for others to make you a good ski racer.
“And when you see this as the answer, you understand that the most important thing that can be done at a club or regional level, is to educate people and athletes who can think on their own. Athletes who are ’self-propelled’, can motivate themselves, are able to ask the right critical questions. However, who do not just complain, but are solution-oriented,” Kjetil says. “And I think Aksel and I have been really, really good at that. We have had both young and older coaches in the team, and we have pretty much always managed to create an incredibly good cooperation with the right values in the national team, independent of who has been there. – The willingness to learn new things and understand what it takes to succeed, those are the good stories around what it takes to succeed as an adult.”
The Attacking Vikings’ team environment
The successes we see on TV, often paired with pictures of wonderful race conditions, do not give us the complete view of life at the top or the path leading there. “When looking back you see all the hours of training, the various bad experiences you have had. You ski a few hundred World Cup races during your career, and you win – percentage wise – very few of them. This goes for most skiers, including myself even though I am among the skiers that have experienced one of the better careers,” Kjetil says. That is why he believes the team environment he has experienced within the Norwegian national team is the most important factor for doing well.
“You can win, but most of the time there are races where you perform so-so. And when you come from a country like Norway, where you don’t travel home between races and instead stay abroad for about 200 days a year, the environment behind the facade you see on TV becomes imperative in order to stay in the sport.
“And that’s the key: How do you manage to make so many men who have a wish to become the best in the world, help each other become the best in the world – even though not all of them can become the best in the world?” Kjetil laughs a little. “And to enjoy traveling together, to appreciate each other, and wish to travel to a training camp. Not necessarily just in order to become the best skier in the world – which is the main goal – but because you thrive while traveling as buddies.
“This is where I believe we have been among the greatest in (alpine skiing) history – in all modesty – and have very hard requirements regarding achievements and professionalism in everything we do. At the same time as the 20-year-old, who has no World Cup victories, has as much value as the person who has 36. He gets to sit at the table and participate socially, and that is where the value of the team lies. But the value of the team also lies in that person being tough in training and pushing the team further, whether it is in ski technique, being structured, or bringing in some new ideas, or contributing with enormous power in the dryland training.”
Just as Kjetil appreciates the team, the team and other people around him appreciate Kjetil.
“Kjetil is an extreme team player, who applauds the others around him when they do well,” says Arnesen, and tells a story from the super-G race at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada:
“Kjetil skied ok halfway through the course, but then he made a big mistake and the result was not good, at least far off the podium. When Aksel won that race, the way Kjetil sticks around in the finish area and gives me a bear hug and says ‘congratulations, we did it!’ while he is disappointed over his own result, that says a lot about the person. And he sings the national anthem out loud at the award ceremony (for Aksel) at night….” Two days later, Kjetil wins his Olympic giant slalom silver medal. “And then you see him and Aksel – Aksel sort of like the big brother who thinks it is incredibly cool that Jansrud is there together with him for the first time.”
Kjetil’s father tells a story of Kjetil as a little boy who, if given a bag of candy, would share his candy with everyone else, right then and there.
“And he has kept on sharing ever since!” Arnesen says.
In addition to being generous, Kjetil is also quite competitive. “I have always had a wish to be the best, independent from whether I play cards, take part in a quiz or am skiing. I can be the person who sits and studies the Trivial Pursuit cards, just because I enjoy knowing stuff, just because I enjoy quizzes!
“But I have not made the type of five-year plan or 10-year plan – like you hear from Lucas (Braathen). I have always thought that I would like to become a world champion, but I have never had that kind of clear plan saying that I will become that, and this is how I will achieve it. It has always just been natural for me to think that ‘that’s the level and that’s where I want to go, so we just keep on fighting’. And suddenly I was there!” Kjetil explains with a small laugh.
“I remember very well the first World Cup victory, because that was really the first day I felt like ‘now I have achieved something!’ I had participated in the Olympics in Torino, and that was big. But to get that first World Cup win, that was the first day where there wasn’t another level above it.”
Kjetil’s first World Cup win came in Kvitfjell in 2012, during three races there in a row. First, he finished third in the super-G, the following day he placed second in the downhill. Finally, on the third race day with another super-G race, he won and could step up onto the top of the podium – at his home ski area.
During the previous days, his parents were in Spain and followed the downhill training runs on TV. Jan recalls: “Kjetil was in the lead by one or two seconds, so I called out to Inger Helen, ‘Come and watch! What is happening?’”
Luckily Kjetil’s parents had returned home before the third race day and were in the finish area for the victory. “That was a nice moment for all of us, really,” Kjetil says. To Jan, this was also one of the greatest moments of Kjetil’s career. “We succeeded together, in a way,” Kjetil says, thinking of all the hours his father has spent up on the ski hill together with him through the years.
Through the years, Kjetil has become very popular among ski fans in the U.S. At the same time, Kjetil also has strong feelings about North-America.
“My best North-American ski memories, in general, are from Beaver Creek and Lake Louise, but for two different reasons,” Kjetil says and explains excitedly: “Lake Louise has fantastic nature! Even though Norway is incredibly beautiful, this is at an entirely different level! Just to get to be there and compete in Lake Louise, which is such an extremely beautiful place, is something I will never forget. It has been a privilege since day one. I hope it always will last (as a World Cup venue). Even though the Austrians prefer to race on home turf, I think this is a fantastic place to be.
“The USA has a special place in my heart. A bit because Norway is a very Americanized country in many ways, so to be in the US and get that ‘everything is bigger in the USA’ feel… And then you can top that – together with Val Gardena – with that Beaver Creek has the coolest downhill ever made. It is also an insanely beautiful downhill, simply put. Maybe the very best designed downhill in the whole world. So I have a lot of memories from there, and I have a lot of good results there.
“We are always asked why we (the Norwegian racers) like it so well, but it is not easy to find a good answer. But it’s because it comes at the right time for us, where we probably have had a good pre-camp and we like the snow and we like to be there. – I really love both places, there is nothing more to say!”
The most fun!
So what is the most fun thing Kjetil Jansrud does on skis?
“Oh! – Oh, there are so many things!” he responds at first, thinks for a few seconds, then continues:
“There are two parts. The professional part of me; it must be to master a downhill course. That is one of the best feelings one can have! A super-G or downhill course, to master it, to be in control over the speed, jumps and in a way just flow, dance down the hill, and still be one of the fastest in the world. It is such a feeling… It is so fun! On an existential level as a skier. That feeling of 100% control, it is magical!” His voice is filled with joy.
“At the same time, I would say that the most fun on skis is really just to ski, basically. Get on the lift early, get freshly groomed courses, just cruise along! Just enjoy great weather and wonderful ski conditions. – I promise you I would not have given you that answer if I were 22. But that feeling just becomes stronger and stronger. It is absolutely the most fun thing I do on skis. So in a way, it is full circle! It started there, back in the days, and now it will end there too, in a way.”
And what is he most proud of?
“I am very proud that I have not given up, even if people around me and I, myself at times have thought that something is not feasible. Which I also feel I prove to myself at this age, that I try to come back after a ligament injury in a very short time and still manage to ski! Even though my speed wasn’t so high in these Olympics! I am very proud of that stubbornness. I am very proud of the willingness to work hard, courage and guts that I have possessed during the periods when I have needed it.
“I am also very proud of how I have managed to handle the relationships with my friends and family during the years. I know that there has been a lot of ‘me’, not the least now in my own family. But that I maybe have managed to be the athlete that has balanced this in a good way. And that I have room in my life for other things than just skiing. It comes down to which person you are when you are nearing 40.
“Results and things like that, which is what one might expect would have been the answer to this type of question, I do not have such a close connection to. I love those moments! I remember the medal ceremony in Åre, for example, which maybe is the first and last time where I have been at a medal ceremony for any race and have heard 10.000 people sing the Norwegian national anthem in a way where you hear the lyrics! During such moments I am… extremely grateful.”
King of the mountain
This week, the world’s fastest male downhill and super-G skiers will race the Kvitfjell course during three World Cup competitions. No other racer can compare with Kjetil’s seven World Cup victories in Kvitfjell.
Kjetil jokingly describes his relationship with Kvitfjell as an old marriage; they’ve had great days together, and some challenging days. “We have had fantastic experiences, and this will always be the hill where I have had the most victories. I hope to keep that ‘king of the mountain’ title forever; that there will be no others who come and win more races here than I have done in total. But at the same time, also heavy moments. A tremendous amount of training hours and runs, which on many days have been fantastic and where you are super motivated and are doing great, and other days where you just do that ‘grind’, the ‘must-do’ work.
“But, man, how grateful I am for Kvitfjell in many ways! To have had the possibility to train on a World Cup hill, which still hosts World Cups today. And to race World Cup in my home arena every year, that is something very few get to experience. And all the work hours people lay down in Kvitfjell, of course for the tourist season, but also all the work they do to maintain an arena where we can practice and use as much as we have done! So we have a long history. It is something I find somewhat touching, that I have had the opportunity to succeed in an arena at home. That will forever be a very strong memory for me.”
All good things come to an end
Kjetil was very motivated for this Olympic season, had put down a lot of good work, and thinks good results could have been possible. Then he injured his knee during the World Cup super-G race in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Dec. 3. “That injury led me to a new project, making it back as soon as possible,” he says, feeling proud that he was back on skis in time for the Olympics.
“That whole Olympic experience was more important for me than I maybe had thought it would be, to take part in my fifth Olympic Games. I am very grateful that I experienced that. And I can accept very well that alpine skiing is such a complicated, demanding sport that – being without race training for a whole year and have a knee that has been through a trauma – is a bad combination when it comes to performing.
In the movie “Aksel”, Aksel asks himself: “When is it really right for me to quit?” Five days before Kjetil announced his retirement, Ski Racing asked him: “When is it really right for Kjetil to quit?”
“Good question! I think that for all athletes, this is always a bit complex, because it is about what is right for each individual. It has always been important for me to win. But there is also that love for the sport and the connection with the team. Then there is a certain fear, uncertainty, you go into this kind of decision-process regarding what you will lose. But if the results are not there, I do not wish to continue.
“Then there is the big issue regarding whether my body can take any more. And it is a more or less ‘look yourself in the mirror’-decision. It is not so much about emotions, but a more straight-forward decision about ‘is my body able to win World Cup races any longer?’
“If I look at myself from the outside, then this is probably the right time now.
“And then it also has to do with the family. I have a fantastic family of my own, which facilitates that I can do what I do, it is teamwork. But now Frøya (their 1.5 year old daughter) starts to get old enough that she understands very well that daddy is gone. And daddy does not think that is fun. I will always have a choice, but I don’t know if I will be the dad that makes those choices…”
Parting words to skiers and parents
In conclusion, how would Kjetil’s childhood coach and father sum up his advice to young skiers and their parents?
Jan Jansrud points out that as a parent you must have a great interest in the sport, and not just drop the child off for training, but participate along with the others. “I think it is optimal if you can contribute to the training team and help with practical things. Involve yourself in a positive way. By being present, the child will feel that you care, that you are interested in what your child is doing. I think that is crucial.”
He says to the young skiers: “You need to ski a lot! The children will need to love this themselves. You need to get into a good environment, with coaches and a setting which is stable. And you need to practice a whole lot from when you are very young. But you need to find a balance, so there is joy there all the time, so you don’t quit. And you must practice specific skills in order to succeed.
“We have run a type of task-driven training where we drill in specific technique with at least
Kjetil Jansrud wishes to share the following with skiing parents who read Ski Racing and skiers who might not yet have experience with World Cup:
“Alpine skiing as a sport is a fantastic arena for all! As children and youth, you learn to be tough in this sport where you have to carry your own equipment, it is cold, it is dark, you have to prepare your skis, you have to plan, you have to be structured. It’s not just to show up in practice and hit a ball. You learn a lot in alpine skiing, which is a relatively demanding 50% freeskiing when the skiers are young. At the same time, we do have great respect for – and so does Kjetil too – that there are many roads leading to Rome. So there are no set answers. Almost most of all, as a basic, it is depending on the willingness of the parents, it requires a lot to reach the top, a lot of effort over a long time,” Jan says.
“I will say that, no matter whether your child or youth will succeed in this sport, you will be left with something more after giving alpine skiing a try, compared to other sports. That in itself makes it worth the try! So if any parents read this; alpine skiing is a good arena to be in for your children. That I am 100% sure of!”
On behalf of the ski racing community: Thank you, Kjetil!
- 2014 Olympic Champion in super-G, five Olympic medals total
- 2019 World Champion in downhill, three World Championship medals total
- 23 World Cup victories, seven of which in Kvitfjell, Norway, 55 World Cup podiums total
- Four World Cup globes (2018, 2017 and 2015 World Cup super-G titles, 2015 World Cup downhill title)
- Five Europa Cup victories, 15 Europa Cup podiums total
- Three Europa Cup globes (2005 Europa Cup overall title, 2005 Europa Cup slalom title, 2005 Europa Cup giant slalom title).
- Five Olympic Games with 16 Olympic starts (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018, 2022)
- Eight World Championships with 21 World Championship starts (2005, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2021)
- Four Junior World Championships with 16 Junior World Championship starts (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005)
- 356 World Cup starts so far. First WC start: January 2003, Wengen, Switzerland, slalom.
- 91 Europa Cup starts. First EC start: December 2001, Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria, downhill.
- First FIS event start: December 2000, Aurdal, Norway, giant slalom.
Just as impressive as his results, but not easily quantified, is Jansrud’s impact on the Norwegian National Alpine Ski Team’s unique atmosphere and cooperation among its athletes, as well as his strong ski racing technique and feel for the snow.