When Kjetil André Aamodt started his golden quest
With eight Olympic podium places and four gold medals, no one has topped this achievement in Olympic Alpine skiing. From his first to his last title, Kjetil André Aamodt was a Super-G champion who turned expectations on their head. From the young 19-year-old unknown in Albertville 1992, to the 34-year-old outsider in Turin fourteen years later, he had to believe in himself when no one else did.
On a foggy 16 February in 1992, on the challenging Face de Bellevarde in Val d’Isère, 19-year-old Kjetil André Aamodt caused quite an upset. The young skier, a last-minute pick for the Norwegian team for the Albertville Games (after Atle Skaardal was injured and had to pull out), won a crushing victory in the super-G. Wearing bib number 3, he made a major mistake 34 seconds into the race which, he would later explain, “took all the pressure away, because you’ve got nothing left to lose.” He proceeded to head for the finish line, which he crossed in 1:13.04, 71/100ths ahead of the legendary Marc Girardelli. He became Norway’s first Alpine skiing Olympic champion for 40 years, and to this day remains the discipline’s youngest Olympic gold medallist.
He also took bronze in the giant slalom, which was won by Alberto Tomba. This magnificent entrance onto the Olympic stage for the double junior world champion of 1990 marked the start of a fabulous career that would end 14 years later with another Olympic super-G title, and an absolute record of eight Alpine skiing medals.
Over the course of a decade, Kjetil André Aamodt was one of the major figures on the international Alpine skiing circuit: World Cups, World Championships, Olympic Games. He was one of those rare sportsmen with the versatility to compete in every discipline, and although he shone in the super-G, giant and combined slalom, he also earned victories in slalom and downhill. In 1993, the champion from Oslo won his first two crystal globes, for the super-G and giant slalom, coming second in the general classification behind Marc Girardelli. That same year he was crowned World Champion in slalom in Morioka (Japan), as well as winning the giant slalom, and taking silver in the combined event.
Three medals in Lillehammer, no podium in Nagano, then two more titles in Salt Lake City
“When I competed in the Lillehammer Games in 1994, I won three medals but no gold. I was on home ground, I was one of the favourites, but it was the mental aspect that kept me from the gold. I couldn’t relax. I was beaten by 4 hundredths of a second in the downhill!” He came in second behind Tommy Moe of the USA in the downhill, third in the super-G, 40/100ths behind the German winner Markus Wasmeier, and earned another silver in the combined event won by fellow Norwegian Lasse Kjus.
By the end of the season, Kjetil André Aamodt stood at the top of the World Cup rankings. That was to be the only “big globe” of his formidable career.
Kjetil André Aamodt was not in the best physical condition when he tackled the pistes of Hakuba and Shiga Kogen at the 1998 Games in Nagano. His results were disappointing. But around that time he won three world titles in the combined event: in Sestriere in 1997, Vail in 1999 and St Anton in 2001. This made him one of the favourites in Utah, for the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.
He began by winning the combined; he built up a good lead in the downhill before taking US skier Bode Miller in the slalom. He then won his second Olympic super-G title, 10 years to the day after his Albertville gold, on the Snowbasin course. “I was very happy, I wasn’t the super favourite, but when you’ve got one win in the bag, it’s easier to win the next one! I was wearing the same bib number as for Albertville (No. 3), it was 10 years later, and I’d done an excellent inspection, which is crucial in this discipline.”
In October 2003, the Norwegian skier sustained a serious injury to his right knee after a fall during training. He missed the entire season, then came back in 2005 with what he considered “mediocre results”. During the Olympic winter season 2005-2006, Aamodt began to rack up some podium places in the World Cup, although victory continued to escape him. In fact, he had not had any wins since the combined in Wengen in January 2003.
18 February 2006: the unexpected fourth title
He arrived in Turin for his fifth Olympic Games, convinced he had every chance of success. His first race was the downhill. “I made two big mistakes and I hurt my knee. I finished in fourth place, 3/100ths behind the bronze. After that, I didn’t compete in the combined and I was unable to defend my title, because my knee was causing me too much pain. It was a shame, but on the other hand I was 34 years old, it was the end of my career, and it wasn’t that important. It was the first time I’d ever felt that: I could compete and fail, and it wasn’t the end of the world.” He continued: “For the super-G, I said to myself: OK, I made two big mistakes in the downhill and I still finished fourth, I do have it in me to win, I’m good enough to do it. No one believed in me. People said: he’s injured, he’ll never get back on top. But I knew I could do it, and my team did too!”
Throughout the morning of 18 February, heavy snow fell on Sestriere’s Banchetta piste. The race started and the first fifteen completed their runs, before the race marshals decided to call a halt. The partial result was cancelled, and the race was rerun later in the day, when the sun returned to the Piemonte ski resort. Kjetil André Aamodt was wearing the number 25.
“I was one of the racers who had not yet completed a run. Normally, it’s a big advantage to have done the piste. But I had nothing to lose, I just had to let my skis do their thing. At the time, Hermann Maier was the world’s best super-G skier. He had bib number 30. I was ranked 6th in the world in the discipline.”
“When I leaned on my poles to start the race, my knee was still sore, but not enough to put me off. I barely even saw the 2nd gate, but my approach was perfect. Then I used all my strength, I attacked every gate and I was quick. I was ahead at the first split time, I had the right skis, and by the time I reached the flat section I was half a second in front. Then came the technical part. I kept away from the gates, in the centre line, which was technically the right thing to do. When it came to the final jump, I knew exactly how to take it. Towards the end, I knew I’d done a really good race, so I became a little complacent through the final gates. I lost a bit of time, but it was enough to win the race, and it was a wonderful way to end my career!” He came in 33/100ths ahead of Ambrosi Hoffmann of Switzerland, who had raced ahead of him (wearing no. 22). Hermann Maier, wearing bib number 30, finished 13/100ths behind and took silver.
At the age of 34, he became the oldest Alpine skiing gold medallist, after having been the youngest. This record was beaten by fellow countryman Aksel Lund Svindal, who won the Olympic downhill gold medal in PyeongChang 2018 at the age of 35. But Aamodt’s last gold medal was also his fourth, a record no one has yet been able to match in Alpine skiing. The same applies to his eight podium finishes.
“I was very lucky on the Olympic stage, and it has given me many opportunities in my life. I’m very, very grateful,” said the champion, who retired from the sport one month after his final Olympic victory. He remains a sporting hero in Norway, the world’s number 1 winter sports country.