Hark the wisdom of 'The Old Swede'

01 December 2010 06:24

Swedish speed racer Patrik Jaerbyn would like to forget the fact that he was born in the 1960s. But other guys on the World Cup keep telling him he’s an old man.

If you didn’t check his birthdate, though, you’d never know this guy who finishes among the top 10 fastest skiers in the world is 41 years old.

“I get reminded of it every day,” Jaerbyn said of his age. “All the Austrians always say, ‘Hey, alter Schwede,’ which means pretty much, ‘old Swede. It’s kind of like a saying –you’ll have to ask them exactly what it means. But I can’t change it. I wish I could turn the time back 15 years … but I can’t.”

The Austrians aren’t the only ones who poke fun at Jaerbyn’s status as the senior man on the tour. When Didier Cuche was asked how veterans like he and Jaerbyn hang with the young guys, Cuche said, “Hey, compared to Patrik, I’m still a young guy.”

Nonetheless, Jaerbyn is doing a pretty good job of leading a convincingly young life.

It’s not like he’s the slowest guy on the hill; far from it, in fact. He pulled off a seventh place in last weekend’s super G at Lake Louise, about a half second away from the win. But his first top 10 on the World Cup (also a seventh in super G in Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria) dates back to 1992. This season’s world championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen will be Jaerbyn’s ninth. He has a silver medal from the 1996 world championship super G in Sierra Nevada and a bronze from the 2007 downhill in Are. He has competed in five Olympic Winter Games (his best result was sixth in the Nagano super G).

A Vail resident, Jaerbyn has never won a World Cup and has only had three podiums – all in super G. One dates back to 1998, the other 2006 (in Lake Louise) and the third in 2008 (Val Gardena). But the beauty of it is that Jaerbyn doesn’t plan to stop trying anytime soon – even though he’s in his forties, even though he doesn’t have a sponsor. His heart is still in it. And his speed is, too.

“I pretty much take it day by day,” he said after finishing a training run at Beaver Creek. “Every time I get through the finish, I’m psyched. I love the sport. I still haven’t got a sponsor, but I love it and I know I can ski with the best. I showed it in Lake Louise. So if I can just keep on being healthy, the result will come by itself.”

Jaerbyn also juggles his life as a World Cup skier with that of being a husband and a father. His boys are 3 and 5.

“My wife is really supportive,” he said. “The kids come to races. They’re coming to Europe for a whole month. I’m going to skip Bormio and go to Hawaii with the family. We make it work.”

While you’d think Jaerbyn’s body would become less resilient to the wear and tear that comes with rocketing down an icy track at nearly 130 kilometers per hour and you’d think his old bones would never be able to bounce back from a crash like the one he sustained in the Olympic super G last season, he is always able to get back on his feet. After that Olympic crash – in which he caught an edge, his body contorted into an unnatural shape and he hammered the back of his head on the ice at high speed, he was taken away in a gurney. But all he ended up with was a bad concussion. And he’s had lots of those.

“I’ve had them before,” he said, as if concussions were as common as goose bumps. “It’s just weird to me, because after like four days, the headaches were gone, I could go up and down the stairs without feeling weird. Maybe the injury healing itself is faster now? I don’t know.”

What Jaerbyn does know is that he isn’t slowing down. And here on his home hill at Beaver Creek he is going to try even harder to find some extra gas.

“I still haven’t won the World Cup. I’m trying every day,” he said. “I take it race by race. Right now, I feel really healthy. I love the sport. Overall, I’m really happy to be on the World Cup 2010 -11. I’m going to do all I can.”


by Shauna Farnell