By Pat Graham and Graham Dunbar
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia: Kjetil Jansrud won his audition for Norwegian idol at the Sochi Olympics.
In an Alpine event that Norway absolutely owns, Jansrud won a thrilling men’s super-G race Sunday, one week after earning bronze in downhill.
Norway’s fourth consecutive super-G gold, and fifth in the past seven Winter Games, put Jansrud in a proud Olympic tradition started by now-retired great Kjetil Andre Aamodt and extended by Aksel Lund Svindal, his more heralded teammate.
“He is absolutely an idol for young Norwegians today,” the Scandinavian nation’s prime minister, Erna Solberg, told reporters after watching Jansrud’s victory. Pre-race favorite Svindal placed seventh in defense of his title.
Andrew Weibrecht charged late at Jansrud’s time of 1 minute, 18.14 seconds to take a surprise silver, edging U.S. teammate Bode Miller and Jan Hudec of Canada into a tie for bronze.
Miller, 36, became the oldest ever Olympic Alpine medalist, surpassing the mark Aamodt set when he won the super-G at Turin in 2006 at age 34.
And with his sixth career Olympic medal, spread over 12 years, Miller took sole possession of second place on the all-time men’s Alpine medal list, two behind Aamodt.
“It’s big, insane,” Jansrud said of Norway’s dominance in super-G, a discipline that challenges racers to be fast and technically correct through a gate-setting they have never practiced. They are allowed a one-hour, early-morning course inspection.
“Somehow when you come to the Olympic Games, Norwegians are on the top of the podium and that is impossible to describe,” he said. “It feels perfect so far.”
Solberg said hosting the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics was a key point in developing Alpine racing in Norway, a land where cross-country skiing dominates.
A hero to look up to
Jansrud, who was eight when Aamodt took bronze in super-G at Lillehammer, singled out Miller as one of his own idols.
“He was already winning races when I was a little kid. He has been one of my heroes,” Jansrud told the Associated Press. “He has had such an amazing career.”
Miller, who started No. 13, took the lead with an exhilarating run, though he lost time going off line down the steep final slope after making the final jump.
“To be on the podium, it’s a really big day for me,” said Miller, who placed eighth in downhill and sixth in super-combined. “Emotionally, I had a lot riding on it. I’m super, super happy.”
Miller let out his emotions, too, tearing up when he hugged his wife, professional volleyball player Morgan Miller, after the race.
Jansrud started No. 21 and was 0.53 faster than Miller, whose time was matched by Hudec.
Still, No. 29 Weibrecht shook up the picture — and made Jansrud’s legs “like jelly” — by being fastest on the upper half and racing into second, 0.30 back.
A new national hero
At these sunbathed Sochi Olympics, starting numbers above 22 have proved impossible to turn into medals on softening snow, and Weibrecht was in a bad mood the night before racing.
“I thought that 29 was kind of a death sentence in terms of having a good run,” he said. “I consciously made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to let any of that affect my race.”
Weibrecht peaked at the Olympics for the second time in an injury-ravaged career. Nicknamed “War Horse,” the Lake Placid, N.Y., native has blown out each ankle and gone through surgeries on both shoulders since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where he got super-G bronze.
He lost his sponsorship from the U.S. ski team after a string of lackluster results, but that didn’t make him any less of a threat in the eyes of the other skiers.
“With Andrew at the start, I was like, ‘There’s a good chance he wins this run right now,”’ said Miller, who took silver in the super-G at Vancouver.
The Americans shared the podium again Sunday. And, again, there was a Norwegian standing above them.
“I don’t think we have any secrets,” Norway men’s Alpine coach Havard Tjorhom said. “Both [Lasse] Kjus and Aamodt have been a huge inspiration for both of our guys.”
So, can new national hero Jansrud perhaps knock cross-country off Norway’s newspaper back pages?
“I think we are not even close,” Tjorhom said. “We just have to ski fast and, maybe, one day.”