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Norwegian Star Seeks Missing Medals

February 2, 2002

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ One more medal, in the slalom, and the Olympic collection of alpine great Kjetil Andre Aamodt will be complete. Add a downhill gold and the medal greedy veteran might even be content.

Not that his shelves are exactly bare. The Norwegian, one of the most versatile skiers ever to hit the slopes, owns a men’s alpine record 15 Olympic and world championship medals.

Since Aamodt first made a name for himself as a double junior world champion in 1990, he’s won a championship medal in every event and has been in the World Cup top 10 for 10 straight years.

He also has five Olympic medals, including one gold, in four of the five Olympic events, despite being shut out at the 1998 Nagano Games. Only slalom is missing.

Last year, Aamodt (pronounced AH-Mott) won his third consecutive gold in the combined, in the World Championships in St. Anton, Austria, where he also took silver in the giant slalom.

``St. Anton was a giant lift for me, with medals number 14 and 15,″ he said.

The only gold missing from his horde of championship precious metal is in the downhill. He has won at least one gold medal in all the other events at the World Championships or Olympics.

The Salt Lake City Games might be his last chance to complete his collection.

At 30, Aamodt says he’s not even considering retirement, although he hints he might slow down next season, perhaps dropping the downhill.

If Aamodt wasn’t born to be an alpine skier, it was certainly in his blood. His father and first coach, Finn Aamodt, is one of Norway’s most respected alpine ski experts.

The younger Aamodt excelled at every sport as a kid, and still likes variety, especially golf, soccer and ice hockey. By 7, he already was an impressive skier.

``Really, it came completely naturally,″ Aamodt said. ``I have worked hard all these years. It is when I see all these medals that I realize I have succeeded.″

Aamodt, a resident of Monaco for tax reasons, was just 22 when he won the World Cup overall title for the first time, and he added a gold in the Super G and bronze in the giant slalom at the 1992 Winter Games. That was followed by golds in the slalom and giant slalom, plus bronze in the combined, at the 1993 World Championships.

However, he failed to win a gold medal at home during the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics. He took silver in the downhill just 0.04 behind American Tommy Moe and finished in the middle of 1-2-3 Norwegian sweep in the combined.

He was edged by his pal, lifelong competitor and frequent roommate Lasse Kjus, and finished just ahead of Harald Christian Strand Nilsen for the third Alpine sweep in Olympic history.

``I was satisfied, but it seemed that no one else was,″ Aamodt said.

Two years later, he won bronze in the 1996 World Championship in the Super G, and the next year won World Championship gold in the combined.

But the man seen as one of the world’s best ski racers didn’t medal in Nagano.

``I felt like I hadn’t done my job, and failed totally in both the Super G and combined,″ he said. ``But I took the experiences from Nagano with me.″

A year later, he was back on the podium, winning 1999 World Championship gold in the combined and bronze in the downhill. In 2001, he won the World Championship gold in the combined and silver in the giant slalom.

Winning that missing Olympic gold in the slalom shouldn’t be just a dream for Aamodt, who was first in the World Cup slalom standings as recently as 2000.

But Aamodt said the medal he really misses is a gold in the downhill. As he gets older, he feels more and more confident in that event.

``When I was younger I would get tense,″ he said. ``I’m not nervous anymore. I could be a dark horse in any of the Olympic events.″

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