Aamodt silences the doubters with double gold
The extraordinary career of Kjetil André Aamodt took another dramatic twist in Salt Lake City. The Norwegian Alpine skier had been competing on the Olympic stage since the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville and he arrived in Salt Lake City with two bronzes, two silvers and a gold to his name already.
However, he was now 30, and some queried whether he could really maintain his position at the top, despite the fact that he had reigned supreme in the combined on the World Cup circuit in the preceding years. Whatever happened, Aamodt was guaranteed to get plenty of attention.
First up was his favourite event, the combined. Aamodt had won the event at the last three world championships to go with four World Cup titles, but in Salt Lake City there was a new dimension to the event: everything was crammed into one day, with the downhill in the morning and the two slalom runs in the afternoon.
If the new format affected some of skiers, it certainly didn't seem to trouble Aamodt. He was fastest overall in the downhill, finishing 0.18 seconds ahead of his Norwegian team-mate Lasse Kjus and more than two seconds clear of two of his main rivals, Austria's Benjamin Raich and Bode Miller of the USA.
Aamodt skied rather cautiously in the first slalom run, recording only the joint fifth fastest time with Miller, but he still held a comfortable overall lead. However, in the second run he produced fireworks.
Miller lay in fifth place overall and knew that another careful run wouldn't be good enough to propel him into the medals. So he attacked the course with utter determination and enjoyed a remarkable reward, clocking a time that was more than a second quicker than Raich’s and over two seconds quicker than Aamodt.
The American’s high-risk tactics propelled him to the silver medal, leaving Raich to settle for bronze. However it was Aamodt who topped the podium for the second Olympic gold of his career.
The third came three days later, in the super-G. With defending champion Hermann Maier still recovering from a motorbike crash, the favourite was Austria's Stephan Eberharter, winner of three super-G races that season. Aamodt laid down an early marker with a time of 1 minute 21.58 seconds, which looked fast, but Eberharter was a tenth of a second ahead as he approached the final section of the course. Then a slight error cost him a fraction of a second, and he finished in 1 minute 21.68 seconds, precisely 0.1 seconds behind the Norwegian, who doubled his Salt Lake City gold tally.
Aamodt was to shock the world again four years later when he retained the super-G title, in doing so becoming the most successful male skier in Olympic history as well as the oldest Alpine skier to win a gold medal.