Twenty years of World Cup racing for Patrik Jaerbyn

07 March 2012 14:32

A book could be written about the first World Cup downhill race held on 19th March 1993 on Bernhard Russi’s newly built ‘Olimpiabakken’ course, created for the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer – to describe the competition and the way it has influenced ski racing for years thereafter.

Even though he beat all the favorites to celebrate his first - and unfortunately also last - victory on the World Cup tour, Adrien Duvillard Jr. was never able to confirm his potential in the following seasons after suffering a series of bad injuries including a concussion at Wengen in January 1997. He was the son of Adrien Duvillard Sr. one of the few athletes able to win both the downhill and slalom races at Kitzbühel in January 1960 and a true ski legend in France. Adrien Jr. is also the cousin of another former World Cup tour star, Henri Duvillard, who celebrated numerous victories in all three ‘classic’ and foremost basic alpine specialties – downhill, slalom and giant slalom from 1969 to 1973.

Next to him on the podium in 3rd place was Norway’s leading speedster, Atle Skaardal, a winner of seven World cup races and a two-time world champion in super-G – and now the FIS Chief Race Director on the women’s World Cup tour.

Switzerland’s Bruno Kernen was a promising 5th that day – a true ‘greenhorn’ on the tour, Bruno was only 20 at the time. Four years later, he became the 1997 downhill world champion at Sestriere and won the Lauberhorn downhill at Wengen in January 2003! He still returns on the men’s circuit, speeding down the slopes as a TV forerunner for Swiss Television. He is also a businessman involved in many sports activities in Switzerland and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the newly crowned downhill World Champion from Morioka, Urs Lehmann of Switzerland, finished only 51st nearly three seconds back. Lehmann is now President of the Swiss Ski Association – Swiss Ski – and a well respected expert commentator on a pan-European sports channel. Finland’s Janne Leskinen, now the general manager of the Finnish Alpine Ski Association, must have been proud to beat Lehmann by 13/100 of a second that day to end in 50th position – not bad at all in fact for a racer coming from a non-alpine country without any downhill runs.

Plenty of established athletes including future Olympic champions such  as Lasse Kjus or France’s Jean Luc Cretier failed to score any points that day and other top-guns including Swiss Franz Heinzer, Austrian Patrick Ortlieb or Marc Girardelli, the multiple overall World Cup champion, only a few of them. Yet, those few turned out to be pretty crucial for Girardelli in his battle for another crystal globe with Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt, the reigning Super-G Olympic champion and a fresh two-time World Champion in slalom (!) and giant slalom in Japan. And, the racer that ended in 14th position, Tommy Moe, was not very famous at that time even though he had already achieved some convincing performances including a 2nd place at Whistler Mountain a week after the FIS Worlds in Japan – but a year later everybody came to know his name and his adventurous story after he captured Olympic gold and silver in super-G on the same slope.

22nd place for a young Swede

The 22nd place of an even lesser-known 23-year-young Swede was pretty sensational considering all the favorites he was able to beat that day but people only started to become aware of his potential a few days later when he came in 4th in the super-G!

The name of that very same Scandinavian was still on the start list of the speed events organized last weekend – 19 years later - at Kvitfjell where he received great applause after completing his last race there – please welcome skiing’s evergreen Patrik Jaerbyn!

After numerous battles and crashes and some wonderful rewards such as his silver medal at the 1996 FIS Worlds in Sierra Nevada or his bronze medal in downhill on home snow at Are, in February 2007, Jaerbyn has finally decided to retire from World Cup racing after having spent more than two decades on the international tour.

“I have raced earlier on the World Cup tour than people believe – I entered some races in Scandinavia before the 1993 season but unfortunately those exact stats are not published anywhere for the moment,” said the now 41-year-old veteran at Kvitfjell when I asked him about his start on the tour. “It’s for sure more than twenty years in total,” added the family father with a grin.

The passion he felt for the sport was his main motivation – the excitement to cruise at high speed down some of the nicest runs in the world has nourished his dedication to remain a ski racer for an amazing long period – certainly the longest ever in the history of the sport. “Only a small group of speed racers can really understand and appreciate the chance to have your own course for two minutes and ski it down as fast as you can, once it’s over – it’s over,” Jaerbyn explained. “As soon as you stop to train as hard as possible, you lose that capacity to master those long skis and control the intense physical pressure to go through the turns and over the jumps. It’s amazing to see how fast muscles start to shrink when you’re no longer exercising your body,” added the Swede who has suffered several major injuries in his career, including broken teeth in the mid-1990s.

The last serious once took place at Whistler Mountain during the 2010 Games when he sustained a bad concussion during his crash in super-G. He had to be airlifted away from the slope by helicopter.

Each time however he managed to return on the tour – often paying himself for his training and his travels. “It was exciting to show to officials from the Federation that I was still able to score good results after preparing myself without their support,” he commented once. “My podium finishes in Lake Louise and Are during the 2006/07 season were incredibly rewarding but I could not have done it without the full support and comprehension of my family which has always supported me.”

Patrik Jaerbyn now lives in Colorado, near Vail, with his family where he will hopefully take time to relax a while and determine what’s up for him in his next life. Hopefully he got good advises from other retired racers including his former tracing colleague France’s Luc Alphand who says that life can be even more exciting afterwards…

Let’s hope it for Patrik!

Watch the interview from Kvitfjell here.