Lucas Braathen: I'm not cocky, I'm just open about my ambitions

The Norwegian skiing prodigy tells Olympics.com his mantra, what he learned from his injury and why it's so special to be part of the 'Attacking Vikings': "We're one unit, and being part of it means giving just as much as you're receiving."

By Alessandro Poggi
Picture by 2020 Getty Images

A confident attitude, a talent for many sports and the Japanese tradition of 'kintsugi': there's so much behind the rise of alpine skiing phenom Lucas Pinheiro Braathen.

The 21-year-old Norwegian has been one of the sport's most exciting new names since winning his first World Cup race in Soelden, Austria, in October 2020.

But that progress came to a halt in January 2021, when Braathen suffered a major knee injury during a crash in Adelboden and was forced to sit out the remainder of the season.

After a lengthy rehabilitation the 21-year-old returned in style, finishing seventh in the opening GS in Soelden after clocking the fastest time in the second run.

In an exclusive interview during the Atomic media day in October, the half Brazilian skier (his mum Alessandra hails from Sao Paolo) opens up on his recovery journey, his Olympic goals and why being open about his ambitions is one of his 'greatest abilities'.

Lucas Braathen: At the Olympics it's top three or nothing

Olympics.com: You’ve just started your first Olympic season, what’s your approach?

Lucas Brathen: The approach is nothing else than trying to put up both a short-term and a long-term plan on how to be the best prepared for the Olympics. Obviously having my injury is something that I've had recently to put into the long-term plan, which is a test, but on the other side I gained experience. So it's nothing else than just trying to do the absolute best to be physically, mentally and technically the best prepared as I can. And then obviously what it requires is: you're going to a new continent, it's a whole another environment, it's another type of snow. So when it comes to equipment and technical stuff, it's having the mindset that one day during the season you have to figure out something that will fit China, not just Europe, that's a big change.

Olympics.com: What's your best Olympic memory?

Lucas Braathen: Obviously, Kjetil (Jansrud) and Aksel (Lund Svindal) gold and silver in Pyeongchang. What a day...I mean? It couldn't have been any better at all. Only missing Alex (Aamodt Kilde) on that podium. We knew they were able to, but we didn't know if they would pull it through. And then they both did, and it was just amazing and that was such a great Norwegian Day and such a great day for the sport because they are such big legends in the sport. And yet again, not only in the World Cup, but also in a major championships, they could do it. And that is really special. And obviously Ted Ligety: I'm a huge fan of Ted since I was a child. So when he won the Olympic gold in GS at Sochi 2014, that also was huge for me because there was nothing I wanted more for him than win that. So those two were probably the coolest Olympic memories, I am sure.

Olympics.com: What about your Olympic dreams: should we consider you one of the medal contenders in Beijing?

Lucas Braathen: I am thinking that for sure. So I think you should too. I'm going to do my best to be as good prepared. And you know, you don't ski Olympics for aiming for top 15 or top 10 or top five. You know, it's top three or nothing. So that's what I'm aiming for.

Lucas Braathen: Svindal helped me with his medical equipment

Olympics.com: Last January you sustained a knee ligament damage, how have you recovered – both physically and mentally – from the first major injury in your career?

Lucas Braathen: The start was tough: so much insecurity, COVID, you couldn't get physically help… It all was over a screen. You know, the roof over your head and the food you're eating is depending on a knee that works. And I'm unable to walk. So, that was a bad period and regaining those milestones, you know, first time on a spinning bicycle, first time throwing the crutches, first time this, first time that… I was like, every one of those milestones made the situation a little better. So just try to work progressively and not think negatively and what's bad about the situation, but I rather tried to flip it and think of all the positive outcomes thare there are from an injury. It's all the experience that you gain. It's so much more of an adult you become. It's so much more you learn about nutrition, about your own body, the consequences of the sport, so much you learn that I think long term injury is something that will benefit you to be a better racer long term, even though short term is tough, the long term I think I'll become a better skier after having gone through something like that.

Olympics.com: How much support have you received from your colleagues in the Norwegian team?

Lucas Braathen: I talked with Aksel (Lund Svindal), Kjetil (Jansrud) and the rest of the old guys on the team. And not only did Aksel and those guys help me with tips. You know, the mindset, you know, they told me, for instance, to let go ski. “You know, don't hold on to this rope of alpine skiing where you're not able to do it. Use this chance to let it go for a little, you know, and focus on you.” So not only were the tips, but it was like... I received machines, for example, from Aksel, from his injury to ice the knee and get blood circulation. So he helped me with equipment that he also used himself. So I'm super grateful to Aksel for helping me out on that stuff. And so it's really both mindset and tips and physical equipment that was much needed in such a period. So yeah, I've used them a lot.

Olympics.com: How much confidence do you have now in your body?

Lucas Braathen: In the knees, it's getting actually really well, it's getting really good. I trust the knee pretty much. I don't think of it as much anymore. I'm more excited or interested to see where my body is physically for in terms of strength, right leg is good and then I have a slight difference still between the left and right leg, which is new. I've never had that before. And the whole dry land season has been pretty different, you know, because you've been having to train other body parts a lot than just legs. So I'm interested to see how the body responds to ski brutal races again

Lucas Braathen: Why the Japanese tradition of 'Kintsugi' helped me through my injury

Olympics.com: You are very active on social and you posted a picture of your latest tattoo, which is inspired by the Japanese art of ‘kintsugi’, can you explain what it means?

Lucas Braathen: It's obviously a vase or a bowl that's broken and it's now refixed, glued in gold. So that's visually what it is and it's a Japanese tradition when you're going through something tough - losing your job or losing someone, or if it's a heartbreak or my situation. A bad ability of mine is that I tend to focus really much on the negatives. In a tough situation, I drag myself down and I focus a lot on the dark pain that you have in such a difficult period. Instead of focusing on all the things you learn and all the things, the positives you're trying to get out of it. It was a friend that introduced me to it and I fell in love with it because it's so incredibly important for me. It's even more important for personal aspects than just skiing. But yeah, and then I learned about the kintsugi because of a heartbreak. So that's why it's beside my heart. But it tends for a lot of things.

Olympics.com: Kintsugi is about embracing imperfections, how does this tradition fit with ski racing, where athletes aim for perfection?

Lucas Braathen: The Japanese tradition just teaches me that: This vase or bowl is now a prettier, better and it's a prettier and better version of itself before it was broken. You know, it looks better. It's better functionality and that's what I try to see. You know, once you're broken, there's so much stuff that you learn. So the day you come out of the pain, you're a better, bigger, stronger whatever person than before you were broken. That's basically the most important. And the gold for me represents that one tough time or one tough period is another crack. And since it's gold, you know, the worth of the path is gold. It's worth a lot, it's valuable because it teaches you so much. And it's meant to be because that's your path to become the person that you become one day.

Lucas Braathen injured his knee after crashing out during the Giant Slalom in Adelboden, Switerland, on 8 January 2021.
Picture by 2020 Getty Images

Lucas Braathen on the 'Attacking Vikings': Stronger together

Olympics.com: Many athletes are into mantras and motivational quotes, what’s yours?

Lucas Braathen: I think this (the kintsugi) is an important one for me. But I think maybe the one that I'm most familiar with, that I think is a good ability of mine. is manifesting your ambitions so to manifest ambitions is a mantra of mine. It's to set clear goals, is to set a time and date where that goal should be achieved. And it's saying it out loud. So when you're setting it there, dare to share that, dare to you share your goals, that'll increase the possibility of yourself making it happen.

In between runs in Sölden last year, where I won my first World Cup race, I was interviewed by a Norwegian TV station and they asked me how I was going to defend my fifth place. And then I said, "I'm not going to defend my fifth place. I'm just halfway up the stairs to the podium. I'm not defending anything. A fifth place is a loss. So I'm here for the win," and obviously in Norway - being a really conservative culture - that seemed a little offensive, but for me, that's a mantra that helps me increase the chances of winning. So manifesting your ambitions is one.

Olympics.com: You and your friend Atle McGrath are bringing fresh blood into the Norwegian team: why is it so special to be part of the 'Attacking Vikings'?

'Attacking Vikings' is all of us, the speed and technical team, and that's the important thing, that we're not divided. We're all one. We're one unit, and being part of it means giving just as much as you're receiving. That's the most important thing. So we build a culture and we believe in a culture where we come from less resources than every other country. We come from a smaller team. Everything with us is smaller than all the other nations. But we believe that using each other for what we're worth, using each other's experience, technique, physical knowledge... everything we can gain from each other makes our staircase faster than the rest.

So progressing as a unit of each other, always taking that next step and learning why he took that next step and then you're the one reaching for a next level. That's why we can progress faster with less resources and facilities and less of a team. So we all become better than if we wouldn't have each other. So that's the most important...that's being an attacking Viking

Lucas Braathen on his football and diving skills: I believe in multipotentiality

Olympics.com: You showed great football skills while playing with Andrine Hegerberg, how does it help in skiing to have sensitive feet?

Lucas Braathen: I think that being a skier and being able to play soccer well and having sensitive feet, having the balance from surfing and having the coordination of doing trampoline and cliff diving, it's all a multipotentiality that will have some thread to your own sport. And it will create abilities that when I'm skiing it will help me in the various situations I'm in. So, for instance, when I won my first race, I don't know if you remember, but I was almost going out of the course at the bottom of the race. Like super close to getting out. I believe that the reason I managed to stay in the course is thanks to the coordination that I've learned by doing cliff diving, surfing and trampoline.

That was a critical situation as my body parts were not where they wanted to be. But I've been there before because I practise on the trampoline, so I'm used to being in a not good situation. It's not that unnatural. So that's what I believe in: I don't think it's necessarily about having sensitive feet, but I think it's to have that too. And to have the balance... I think it's the multipotentiality of all other activities you're doing that contributes into making me the skier that I am today.

Olympics.com: Final question: despite the young age, you always look very confident, how does your attitude help you achieve results?

Lucas Braathen: It's manifesting the ambitions. In the Norwegian culture I would be seen as maybe in the direction of 'cocky'. But I would never brag about that I'm so good at something, I rather feel that it's just being really honest and open about the ambitions, and I do believe I can be the best in the world or else I would not have been doing skiing. And I'm just open about that.

But in Brazil, that's not seen as that at all. That seemed pretty normal. It's pretty usual when you see athletes. So for me, that's just who I am and I am comfortable with not fitting for everyone and everyone doesn't fit for me. So what I think is that manifesting the ambitions, and being so open about it, realizes the ambitions I have, or at least they have a higher possibility of coming true. So I think that's one of the greatest abilities I have, and I'm depending on it to ski good.

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