Swedish Dynamic Duo Ready to Battle The World in Chamonix

28 January 2011 18:09

CHAMONIX, FRANCE – Just ask Hans Olsson – when it comes to life on tour in ski racing’s most thrilling discipline, the downhill – it’s not always easy being Swede.

For example, look at Friday’s downhill training results sheet: 11 Swiss finishers, 8 each from Austria, France and Italy, and even four apiece from nations such as Slovenia and the Czech Republic. Sweden: only two.

“It’s just me and the angry dinosaur, normally that’s what I call him,” jokes Olsson about his lone 41-year-old Swedish teammate, Patrik Jaerbyn.

While ideal for doubles tennis, two doesn’t make for a powerhouse alpine skiing squad, where experienced competitors will tell you that being pushed hard in training by multiple teammates will quickly improve a racer’s ability.

“All the other teams have all these supplies and coaches,” says the 26-year-old Olsson. “We’re always kind of the underdogs. What we do with a two-man team, one 41-year old guy and one overweight, fat a**, and I can say we still keep up with the best athletes. I think it’s fun when we can go out and compete with the big teams.”

Olsson, who is in his sixth year on tour showed great promise two seasons ago, when he finished third twice, at downhills in Lake Louise and Are. This year his best result is tenth at the Lauberhorn downhill in Wengen, Switzerland, two weekends ago.

Jaerbyn, a five-time Olympian who has been traveling the “White Circus” since 1993, has reached a podium three times in World Cup racing. His best performance came at the 2007 World Championships in Are, Sweden, where he sped to a bronze medal.

“It helps so much to be two, instead of just me driving around alone for 15-years. He is benefiting gigantic,” says Jaerbyn about his only speed racing teammate. “He has no idea what it is to do it alone. We have a great coaching staff and it’s really fun. I just wish it would have happened 15-years-ago.”

“I think he should appreciate that he has me pushing him, otherwise I think he would have quit maybe,” says the blond-haired Olsson, always ready to give Jaerbyn, or anyone else for that matter a hard time in jest. “When I was younger and he was the top guy, we had a hard time getting along. I was the one not showing any respect. In the earlier years, we were kind of enemies, but we made peace and now we’re a tight, small team.”

Jaerbyn whole-heartedly agrees with the wise-cracking, significantly younger racer.

“He’s grown a lot since he came onto the scene in 2005,” says Jaerbyn. “Back then he was young and acted a certain way, but he’s learned a lot and we get along great. It's great having two”

To make matters slightly more challenging, at least in some aspects for Jaerbyn and Olsson, the Swedish technical team has become a dominant force in slalom, garnering much publicity as of late. This past Tuesday at the “Night Race” in Schladming, Austria, Andre Myhrer finished second leading four Swedes into the top seven in slalom. Afterward, he suggested that Sweden might have the best slalom team on the planet.

“The Swedish press, they don’t get it,” says Olsson, half-joking, half-offended. “We had Stenmark, and Wiberg and Paerson on the ladies side, but no one has really ever made it to the top in the speed disciplines on the men’s side. We deserve more credit from the press. Downhill is tough and we’re still in there fighting for podiums.”

“I hope Sweden is not so single-minded that we can’t do downhill, because we can,” adds Jaerbyn. “Me and Hans have both shown that. I know there are more guys out there. The coaches have to believe in more than slalom. If you have a good base to stand on, it’s not that hard (downhill). A good skier can ski anything.”

Olsson is considered one of the funnier guys on tour by his peers, frequently joking with his foreign colleagues and expressing his opinion, while humorously taking light-hearted shots at his competitors, often on his website: www.hans-olsson.com.

In his latest blog from Chamonix, he discusses teaming up with T-Rex (yet another nickname for Jaerbyn) and competing with the Norwegians, Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud in regards to which country is best and has the sweetest inventions.

Olsson writes: Swedish inventions - Dynamite, Fire Match, The Zipper, The Pacemaker, The fridge, The Olsson Tuck…among many others. Norwegian inventions - The cheese slicer & aaa, well that was pretty much it.

Sweden: one, Norway: zero. At least according to Olsson.

But it’s not only their fellow Scandinavians that Olsson, and sometimes Jaerbyn, like to playfully poke fun at. Any team larger than them is fair game and that's means pretty much everyone.

“I don’t know who came up with French food being so good, I guess it was the French,” laughs Olsson. “I agree with Patrik. I don’t like the food that much, sorry France.”

“He’s at the wrong place, I think,” counters French downhiller, Johan Clarey. “He has to try some other places. You can’t say that French food is bad.”

Kidding aside, Saturday’s downhill here in Chamonix could bode well for the Swedish duo, particularly considering that a good portion of the La Verte Des Houches piste favors gliders, something that both Olsson and Jaerbyn fare well at.

Although the veteran Jaerbyn is returning from a concussion suffered in Wengen and Olsson didn’t have his best results last weekend in Kitzbuehel, both posted solid training runs on Friday. Olsson was tenth, 0.70 seconds behind the second training run leader, Michael Walchhofer, while Jaerbyn was immediately behind in 11th, 0.81 off the pace.

“For me, it’s all about the big carousel turn,” says Olsson, regarding his recipe for success on Saturday. “They prepare it with water, so it’s pretty tough. I need to make sure I smash my skis into the ice there to get around.”

So perhaps it will be a fortuitous weekend for the Swedish dynamic duo in Chamonix. And if they need inspiration, all they have to do is look to two fellow Swedes that dominated on French soil in the 1970’s and 1980’s: Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander. Borg claimed the French Open six times between 1974-81, while Wilander was victorious three times between 1982-88.

“It’s kind of hard to compare those two, but sure why not,” says Olsson. “I like France, I like the environment and everything. I think I should be able to do well here.”

“I think he’s getting better-and-better this year and can do well on this kind of track,” says Clarey about Olsson, not being overly offended by the Swede’s French food comments. “I think he is the man to watch this weekend.”

And if all happens to go well Saturday at the Kandahar downhill for the small Swedish downhill team – Jaerbyn and Olsson – perhaps the Swedish press will find some space to write about them on Sunday. Surely, their slalom counterparts won’t mind sharing the attention.


- By Brian Pinelli

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