Teen Kristoffersen adds to Norway’s Olympic lore
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Henrik Kristoffersen grew up skiing under the lights in Raelingen, where darkness draws in early and his grandfather keeps a key to the chair lifts.
Those floodlit nights in his Norwegian home town prepared him for the Olympic spotlight.
The 19-year-old became the youngest men’s Alpine medalist in Winter Games history, taking bronze in slalom Saturday by mastering a second-run course that tricked many more experienced rivals.
Showing uncommon poise and technique, Kristoffersen raced down the steep slope and up the standings after being just 15th fastest first time down the Olympic hill.
“I thought the medals are gone so I have to just ski good and not embarrass myself one more time,” the teenager said, with self-mocking humor. “I was pretty smart, I think. I’m only smart when I’m skiing.”
Kristoffersen’s name joins an illustrious list which has made a nation obsessed with cross-country skiing into a genuine Alpine power at the Winter Games.
Kjetil Andre Aamodt. Lasse Kjus. Aksel Lund Svindal. Kjetil Jansrud.
All have at least three Olympic medals, including gold, since 1992. In that year, at the Albertville Olympics, Aamodt’s gold in super-G gave Norway its first Alpine medal for 40 years.
“I feel a little bit part of it and I hope it’s just the start,” Kristoffersen said of Norway’s tradition.
Entering this Olympic season, Kristoffersen was not even part of Norway’s traditional success on the World Cup circuit.
That changed in November when he placed third in a slalom won under the lights at the Arctic Circle town of Levi, Finland. Kristoffersen shared the podium that day with Austrians Mario Matt and Marcel Hirscher, respectively the gold and silver medalists Saturday.
Kristoffersen emerged as a genuine Olympic threat in January, reeling off good slalom results including second place at Kitzbuehel, Austria, and his debut victory days later at the classic slalom at nearby Schladming.
Those two performances suggested Kristoffersen would cope well with the Olympic slalom medal race under floodlights.
Despite failing to shine earlier Saturday, he sensed he could challenge on a second-leg gate-setting designed by Croatia coach Ante Kostelic.
“I have never been this excited after being 15th and that far behind and doing such a bad first run,” Kristoffersen said later.
He gave another good one-liner when asked how he generates speed from such a tall, slight frame weighing in at 73 kilograms (161 pounds).
“Everybody is asking me if I am a ski jumper,” Kristoffersen joked. “There is for sure a little bit of power in here.”
The number that matters in Olympic history is his age of 19 years, 235 days — 47 days younger than Austrian Alfred Matt was when taking slalom bronze at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics.
“He is much more adult in his head than he looks like,” Kristoffersen’s Norway teammate Leif Kristian Haugen said. “He is a wonder child.”