By Nick Mulvenney
PYEONGCHANG (Reuters) – A trio of Norwegian raiders — “a joker and two pretty good cards” in the words of one of them — have a chance to erase one of Alpine skiing’s greatest anomalies in the men’s downhill at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Sunday.
Skiers from the winter sports powerhouse have won five Olympic super-G titles, including the last four, and taken four silvers and a bronze in the last six Olympic downhills but no Norwegian has yet landed the sport’s most prestigious prize.
Out to change that at the Jeongseon Alpine Center this week will be three firm friends, thirty-somethings Kjetil Jansrud and Aksel Lund Svindal and their 25-year-old team mate Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.
“It’s kind of weird that we don’t have a gold yet but it does only happen every four years,” said Kilde.
“It’s been pretty good trainings from Kjetil and Aksel and I’m going to do my best, so we have one joker and two pretty good cards.
“If it doesn’t happen this time, then we’ll try again.”
To describe Svindal and Jansrud as “pretty good cards” is no understatement.
Svindal has been the king of Norwegian Alpine skiing since the retirement of Kjetil Andre Aamodt and is a twice overall World Cup champion, twice downhill world champion and 2010 Olympic super-G gold medallist.
He missed out on downhill gold by 0.07 seconds in Vancouver eight years ago and had to battle back from another injury, this time to his knee, just to get to what he says will be his final Olympics.
“The racing is so tight,” the 35-year-old said of his country’s downhill drought.
“But you could say it’s strange that we have won so many super-Gs, no? Why we can win that and not the downhill, I don’t know.
“I don’t worry about it, and I don’t think the other guys do either. It’s not a core driver.”
Jansrud has played the knave to Svindal’s king for much of his career but has had better recent form and enjoyed a stunning Sochi Olympics with the super-G gold and a downhill bronze.
The consensus was that the Jeongseon piste would suit his style and Jansrud has backed that up this week with the second-best time in all three training runs.
Kilde, whose only World Cup downhill success came in Garmisch in 2016, said the Norwegians had helped each other to improve.
“We travel around together for most of the year, we’re good friends,” he added.
“We try to learn from each other and have a good time together. It’s important to have a good time if you want to go fast.”
As good as the Alpine trio are, they know they are destined to play second fiddle to the country’s cross-country aces even if one of them snares the downhill gold in South Korea.
“Cross-country will always be the biggest sport in Norway,” Svindal grinned.
“Norway’s a small country, there’s not that many things we’re best in the world at.”
(Editing by Clare Fallon)