Norwegian trio looks to rule Olympic speed events

Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal smiles as he stands near the top of the course prior to men's downhill training at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Jeongseon, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
JEONGSEON, South Korea (AP) — The Norwegian speed trio has an unwritten and largely unspoken agreement: No holding back anything from each other.
That’s why on practice days, the skiers go full tilt down the hill. Or on training days in the gym, they push the pace on the stationary bike. And it especially applies to race days, when they share intricate details about the course.
One for all, all for one — that’s how the three amigos of Aksel Lund Svindal , Kjetil Jansrud and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde make each other faster. It’s a reason why they could bring home a few medals during the speed races at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
“We’re always pushing each other,” said Svindal , who will be a favorite in Sunday’s downhill race. “There are no games or people trying to hide their skill. It’s very honest and open.”
At 35, Svindal is the sage leader of the group. It’s easy to see why, given a resume that includes 35 World Cup wins, an Olympic medal of every color — all at the 2010 Vancouver Games — and five world championship titles. All this despite an array of injuries that’s included knee surgeries, a torn Achilles and a training crash so severe that his razor-sharp ski lacerated his abdominal area.
“In my eyes, he’s one of the best skiers we’ve ever seen,” Kilde said . “His comebacks show how as a person and as an athlete he comes back even stronger than he was. He’s one of the biggest idols I have so it’s a lot of fun.”
Pushing Svindal over the years has been his good buddy Jansrud , who has 20 World Cup wins to go with three Olympic medals, including gold in the super-G at the 2014 Sochi Games.
“He’s great, too,” Kilde said. “Those two are the ones I look up to the most on the start. I try to learn a lot from them, for sure. I’ve been around them for many years now. They give me something and I give them something back . At least, I try.”
Kilde does, all right — a youthful burst of energy. At 25, Kilde soaks up any tips provided by his veteran teammates. He gets teased and treated like a younger brother, but he’s warmly accepted like one, too. Kilde’s won twice on the World Cup circuit — a downhill and a super-G a month apart in 2016. His best finish at the Olympics is 13th during the super-G in Russia.
“In many ways, he’s the glue in the team,” the 32-year-old Jansrud said. “Aksel and I have known each other for so many years, been friends for so long and have spoken about all the things there is to discuss. So Aleksander coming in, he’s this energy, the young guy who’s exciting. If he wouldn’t have been there, we probably would’ve just gotten older and slower.”
They compete in just about everything. Although, there’s an area where Jansrud rules supreme — video games.
“We all know that Kjetil is the best at that,” Kilde said.
On training days, they try to better the other. It’s the best way to gauge just how fast they are, because if they can keep up with each other in practice, they know they’re on pace to be speedy come race day.
Take the second downhill training run Friday for instance: The trio finished within 0.75 seconds of each other, with Jansrud leading the way just 0.01 seconds behind the top time posted by Christof Innerhofer of Italy.
“We do have a pretty high level in training and that makes it always good when it comes to the (race),” Kilde said.
Sometimes, they’re joined for training by tech specialist Henrik Kristoffersen, who’s another favorite to pick up medals for the Norwegian team. Kristoffersen adds another dimension, especially when they train giant slalom.
“He’s a really strong skier and we have a lot we can learn from him,” Kilde said. “Especially his technique, which is really modern.”
Ask the racers on the tour who they think are the ones to beat in the Olympic speed events and Svindal or Jansrud are always at the top of the list. Innerhofer even tabbed Jansrud as the favorite in the downhill.
Meanwhile, Kilde lurks closely behind.
“One racer you have to look to and admire his tactics is Kilde. He’s a star,” American racer Thomas Biesemeyer said. “But he’s in the shadow of Svindal and Jansrud.”
No time like the Olympics to break out, right?
“I mean, I always try to be 100 percent in training and try to stay positive, try to push Aksel and Kjetil even though they’re experienced and know what they’re doing,” Kilde said. “I think I can come in with some stuff and try to beat them in training. Because when they get mad, they ski even faster.”
___
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org