Norway’s dynamic duo Aamodt and Kjus named 2015 Legends Of Honor

05 February 2015 15:05
Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Lasse Kjus
Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Lasse Kjus -
Agence Zoom

VAIL, Colorado—Best friends, roommates, fierce competitors and leaders of Norway’s “Attacking Vikings” alpine ski team, Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Lasse Kjus are destined to be forever linked. 

As a result of their countless ski racing career accomplishments, the duo were recently selected as the 2015 Legends of Honor recipients and will be inducted into the International Ski Racing Hall of Fame. Normally awarded during Vail’s annual American Ski Classic, the honors will be bestowed on the evening of February 11 during the 2015 World Championships. 

When seven-year-old Kjetil Aamodt was doing his daily routine of sit-ups, push-ups and squats, his father, Finn Aamodt, would shout at him from the second floor balcony that if he didn’t finish his exercises, he would not get dinner.

Kjus’ father, along with other parents, built a 40-yeard Slalom slope for the neighbourhood kids.  By the time he was seven or eight years old, he had not only met Kjetil, but was also coached by his father. 

Who can beat Aamodt and Kjus became the question first posed in earnest in 1990 when the two Norwegian teenagers won medals in every discipline at the World Junior Championships in Zinal, Switzerland.

The moment was short-lived for Kjus, however, as he crashed during training the following winter, tearing the nerve in his left deltoid muscle.  In order to regain the use of his arm, he had to train the surrounding muscles to do the work the deltoid could no longer do.

A year later, at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, Aamodt captured his first Olympic medals, a gold in the Super-G, along with a bronze in Giant Slalom.  The accomplishment was even more impressive given the fact that just three months prior to the Games, he was hospitalized with mononucleosis.  Despite losing almost 25 pounds, he managed to recover in time to record Norway’s first Olympic alpine medal in 40 years.

Kjus made history of his own at the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994, becoming the first Norwegian to win an Olympic gold in the Alpine Combined event and leading a Norwegian home soil sweep that included Aamodt and Harald Christian Strand-Nilsen.

Nicknamed the “Baby Shark” for his killer instinct, Aamodt’s strong foundation in sportsmanship best defined his character. 

“This is my best day as a skier,” explained Kjetil of the Lillehammer Combined.  “My best friend won and I am very pleased for him.”

Four years later at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Kjus became the first alpine skier in Olympic history to earn two medals in the same day, winning a silver medal in the Downhill, which had been delayed five days due to bad weather, and following that up with a second silver medal in Combined in the afternoon.

But in February of 1999, Kjus pulled off one of the most remarkable feats in alpine skiing history when he claimed a medal in all five disciplines at the World Champions in Vail and Beaver Creek with two golds and a trio of silver.  The medal sweep was highlighted by the historic gold medal tie in Super-G with Austria’s Hermann Maier, while Maier’s teammate Hans Knauss collected the bronze, a mere one hundredth of a second from a three-way tie. 

Aamodt won his final Olympic gold medal in the Super-G at the 2006 Torino Games, shortly after the birth of his daughter, and after injuring his knee in the Downhill.  The Torino gold distinguished him as the first male alpine skier to win four Olympic gold medals.

Kjetil officially announced his retirement in 2007 on a live television broadcast while accepting the award for Norwegian Sportsman of the Year.  He credits Lasse, not only for his success, but also for his longevity in the sport. 

“I would not have even raced Downhill without him,” offers Aamodt.  “He was a speed demon…more fearless…and we were always challenging each other.  Without him, I would not have won as much.  He made it more fun and less boring.”

Kjus retired in 2006 and when asked what Aamodt did for him, he is quick to answer.  “Absolutely nothing,” deadpans Lasse.  But then the smile returns to his face and he describes his friend as a source of early inspiration. 

 “He was showing the way when we were 17, 18 and 19,” says Kjus, “and the camaraderie was helpful in taking away the pressure, especially in the bad times.”

These days, the question of “Who Can Beat Aamodt and Kjus” is posed on Norwegian television as a popular game show pits pairs of celebrities against Kjetil and Lasse.  Playing off of each other’s trademark dry humor, the duo goads each other, along with the competition, through challenges that range from running a giant hamster wheel to answering quizzes to identifying mysterious food while blindfolded.

In addition to their game show antics, Aamodt and Kjus are both fully engaged in the next stages of their professional careers, Lasse with his successful Kjus clothing line and Kjetil with a multitude of interests that include motivational speaking, serving as a board member of UNICEF as well as on the FIS Alpine Executive Committee.

Over the course of their combined 33-year World Cup careers, Aamodt and Kjus accounted for a total of 39 World Cup individual wins, three overall World Cup titles, 23 World Championships medals and 13 Olympic medals.

Created in 1984, the Legend of Honor Trophy has been presented annually by the Vail Valley Foundation during the American Ski Classic to an individual or family that has profoundly impacted the nature of skiing and ski racing throughout the world.

Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Lasse Kjus will join previous Legend of Honor recipients including:

1984       Emile Allais                                                          1998       Nancy Greene-Raine

1985       Birger Ruud                                                        1999       Pepi Gramshammer

1986       Dick Durrance & Gretchen Fraser              2000       Marielle & Christine Goitschel

1987       Toni Seelos                                                         2001       Toni Sailer

1988       Stein Eriksen                                                      2002       Billy Kidd & Jimmie Heuga

1989       Freidl Pfeifer                                                      2003       Gustavo Thoeni

1990       Karl Molitor                                                        2004       Bob Beattie

1991       The Werner Family                                           2005       Bernhard Russi

1992       Andrea Mead Lawrence                               2006       Rosi Mittermaier-Neureuther   

1993       Christl Cranz                                                       2007       President Gerald Ford & Family

1994       Christian Pravda                                               2008       Franz Klammer

1995       Tom Corcoran                                                    2009       Cindy Nelson

1996       Barney McLean                                                 2010       The Crazy Canucks

1997       Anderl Molterer                                                2011       Phil & Steve Mahre

2012       Marc Girardelli                                                  2013       Tamara McKinney

2014       Annemarie Moser-Proell                              2015       Kjetil Andre Aamodt & Lasse Kjus

 

Content for the 2015 Legends of Honor was provided by Edith Thys Morgan and Skiing History, the journal of the International Skiing History Association.  Her articles are accessible at www.skiinghistory.org.