Svindal, Jansrud and the Sad, Abrupt End to Norway's Friendly World Cup Rivalry

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2016

Drinking buddies, World Cup rivals: Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud enjoy the rewards of their second and first place at Alta Badia, Italy in December.
Drinking buddies, World Cup rivals: Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud enjoy the rewards of their second and first place at Alta Badia, Italy in December.Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

Wengen followed by Kitzbuehel is one of the most daunting, potentially rewarding and iconic one-two punches currently in sports. Its downhill races are at the centre of consecutive weekends that rival any other on offer elsewhere.

For Norway's two World Cup speed stars Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud, the latest running of the mid-January double had implications beyond standalone glory. Their season's ambitions were tied up in how promptly they could take on the tour's most challenging mountains.

The destination of their targeted overall and downhill titles (and because of events in Austria, the super-G too) were certainly impacted. But not as either in this absorbing friendly rivalry would have liked.

Neck-and-neck in December's rare running of a parallel giant slalom, despite winning this one Jansrud had come to accept overhauling Svindal would be a big ask.
Neck-and-neck in December's rare running of a parallel giant slalom, despite winning this one Jansrud had come to accept overhauling Svindal would be a big ask.Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

By the time all was said and done in Kitzbuehel, Svindal's campaign was over and Jansrud's reframed significantly.

The two team-mates had entered the weekend locked in a rivalry refreshingly devoid of ego and animosity.

Jansrud was the king of speed in the 2014-15 World Cup, leading the way in Svindal's absence.
Jansrud was the king of speed in the 2014-15 World Cup, leading the way in Svindal's absence.Armando Trovati/Associated Press

After a confidence-boosting super-G gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Jansrud thrived in his compatriot's injury-enforced absence last season to win the World Cup titles in both speed events. Since returning in October, Svindal has naturally been intent on reclaiming crowns previously his on multiple occasions.

Overall World Cup title aspirations were also set to be a factor in prospective duels. Both well aware valuable points lost to the other would benefit Marcel Hirscher here—the reigning, four-time big globe winner primarily targeting a fifth via his technical-event specialities (his successful super-G dalliance in the American resort of Beaver Creek a helpful addition to his tally).

The 33-year-old Svindal's even greater past glories were always going to trump concern over the possible affects of his long-term injury. Jansrud, three years his junior, had nonetheless earned the right to be considered a legitimate obstacle to his compatriot automatically picking up where he left off.

Their close proximity on more than one level as Lauberhorn week commenced confirmed a compelling battle thus far.

Svindal had the edge in points in his preferred downhill and super-G disciplines thanks to five wins. The 2014-15 front-runner, Jansrud was restored to a place among the chasing pack.

On the comeback trail, Svindal celebrates his first win of the season, the Lake Louise downhill in Canada.
On the comeback trail, Svindal celebrates his first win of the season, the Lake Louise downhill in Canada.Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

Commendably he did not pout, retaining his competitive hunger while still maturely presenting himself a supportive team-mate. No small thing given the disappointment he felt at his prominence diminishing slightly, as admitted to British Olympic skier Graham Bell on BBC's Ski Sunday.

"I think also a big part of it is putting your ego away at certain times because, as everybody knows, individual athletes have a big ego," Jansrud said reflecting on the adjustment of competing alongside and against Svindal again.

"I've kind of accepted being the No. 2, which I think is OK because you get what you deserve in sport. It's way more cool to win a race than getting second, so I'll just have to make sure I give him the competition he deserves."

A reminder of that competition was seen in his victory in Wengen's Alpine combined. Coupled with his pipping Svindal in the pre-Christmas running of a rare parallel giant slalom, Jansrud showed he would not cede the spotlight easily.

Nevertheless, on a great weekend for Norway (see above), the following day's downhill felt more representative of what had been and indicative of what was to come in the season's remainder.

Jansrud was forced into a 20-minute wait for his go on the glamorous slog of the Lauberhorn after mist descended on the already shortened course. At the second split, he was chasing the lead but not out of reach. By the time television pictures caught up with him on the Hanneggschuss, he was over a second-and-a-half behind.

It may not have mattered.

On his 10th attempt Svindal won the Wengen downhill for the first time.
On his 10th attempt Svindal won the Wengen downhill for the first time.FABRICE COFFRINI/Getty Images

Though Hannes Reichelt's ski in-between had pushed him close, Svindal's scintillating effort was commensurate with a performer only beaten in one downhill up until then. At his second time check he had put over a second into previous leader Klaus Kroell. Crossing the finish line it was minus-1.52.

The weather was just worsening at the midway point as Svindal raced—his sympathetic look as Jansrud completed his turn acknowledged his own fortune. But the satisfaction of a first win at Wengen and a considerable extension to his place at the top of the downhill leaderboard was warranted.

"It was hard today, but I just focused on finding the best line and skiing a clean run," Svindal said post-race, per CNN. "It feels good, I've been chasing Wengen for a while."

Svindal is helped out of the nets after his costly crash at Kitzbuehel.
Svindal is helped out of the nets after his costly crash at Kitzbuehel.CHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images

If Wengen and Kitzbuehel combine for Alpine skiing's one-two punch on the sporting senses, the Hahnenkamm particularly packed a wallop this year. The epic Streif living up to its fearsome reputation.

Svindal won a super-G on the day prior, Alexis Pinturault its overarching Alpine combined. A day after another Norwegian in Henrik Kristoffersen continued his excellent season, the second of a trio of slalom wins at famous venues also including Wengen and, soon after, Schladming.

Peter Fill gave a controlled and crucially quick assault on the downhill to record a career-best win. Despite all these achievements, it was the Streif's casualties, mental and physical that defined the weekend's likely overall place in the story of the season.

Jansrud again went after Svindal and Reichelt. His 14th place was a season low in the downhill, undoubtedly affected by what he had witnessed beforehand.

Unlike Reichelt and his fellow Austrian Georg Streitberger who were lifted off the mountain, Svindal walked away from his crash on the Hausberg. The later news, sadly, was not good (though he and Streitberger looked to make the most of the situation).

Jansrud did well to leave Kitzbuehel unscathed, something others were not so lucky to do.
Jansrud did well to leave Kitzbuehel unscathed, something others were not so lucky to do.Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

A ruptured anterior cruciate ligament has ended his season and opened up the door for the likes of Hirscher, Kristoffersen and Jansrud to capitalise. All still with shots at year-ending honours, a considerable rival of theirs no longer a factor.

Not one of them will cheer the likable and entertaining Svindal's latest misfortune, though.

Jansrud will accept the reprieve for his season's chances and like any good sportsperson will get on with his job. But its abrupt nature will deny him and us the opportunity to see just how far or not he may have pushed Svindal.

A rivalry and working relationship on pause even as a friendship continues.

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