Two For Two: Injury-hit Norway Fields Reduced Downhill Teams

Two For Two: Injury-hit Norway Fields Reduced Downhill Teams

CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy: Normally it takes a long time for up-and-coming Norwegian skiers to make it onto the national speed team for big events.

Henrik Ra has done it after just six World Cup starts.

He joined the injury-hit Norway team for the world championships only eight weeks after his first top-level race.

The 25-year-old Ra from Oslo is one of just two Norwegian starters in super-G and downhill, alongside Kjetil Jansrud, who won the downhill world title two years ago.

So far its a nice experience. Definitely looking forward to the downhill, Ra said after training on Friday, a day after he placed 17th in the super-G.

The story isnt much different for the womens team, with also just two starters in Saturdays downhill: Kajsa Vickhoff Lie and Ragnhild Mowinckel.

The mens team, dubbed The Attacking Vikings, could have fielded five racers for Sundays downhill four regular spots plus an extra place earned by Jansruds gold.

But the team has been deprived of some its biggest names going into the worlds, losing Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and Adrian Smiseth Sejersted to knee injuries.

Kilde, the first overall World Cup champion from Norway since retired standout Aksel Lund Svindal won the last of his two titles in 2009, damaged his knee in a training crash in Austria a month ago.

Sejersted had two World Cup podiums in December before hurting his knee in the Bormio downhill, the final race of 2020.

More bad luck struck the team when two 20-year-old racers, who had their breakthrough in giant slalom this season, also sustained season-ending knee injuries.

Lucas Braathen, who won the World Cup season opener in October, and Atle Lie McGrath were hurt in early January in the GS in Adelboden. They specialize in GS but have competed in speed races as well.

It leaves Ra with a tough task to replace them on the big stage.

At the moment its not feeling like that. I still have Jansrud at my side,” he said. “Of course, I have some big shoes to fill.

Ra’s best result in his six World Cup starts was an impressive 16th place in the classic downhill in Kitzbhel three weeks ago.

There is always pressure, you always feel nervous, there is always a type of excitement going into the race, he said. So far, its OK. Im not feeling a huge pressure, Im still able to ski OK.

Even though Ra has just joined, he already carries the same laid-back attitude thats been a trademark of the team.

Skiing on a challenging new course in Sundays downhill? It doesnt scare him off, having had several firsts on demanding slopes this season.

I have never been to Kitzbhel. I have never been to Garmisch. From my side its more or less the same, Ra said. Its still the same mentality going in. Its a fun challenge.

Still, he turned to advice from Jansrud, who knows a thing or two about injuries and worlds.

He tore ligaments in the super-G in Schladming in 2013, and he entered the 2019 worlds with two broken bones in his left hand, and still ended up beating Svindal to gold.

Injuries are part of the sport. Our teams been struck very hard. Its sad. I miss both Alex and Adrian, Jansrud said. “Its a different feel in the team.

Lie has definitely felt it.

I was the lone athlete last year so now were a 100% more, she quipped.

I think we are a good group and me and Ragmow try to help each other, so we are trying to step it up.”

Mowinckel, a two-time OIympic silver medalist, is slowly returning from tearing her right ACL twice in eight months in 2019 and from some other smacks, as she put it.

It takes time, Mowinckel said. I dont look at the results at the moment, but I know that if I still keep doing what Im doing, the results will come.

As Svindal and Jansrud have shown over the years, Norway shouldnt be too worried about the size of its team.

Usually its enough for Norway to have one guy at the start, Jansrud boasted, because we are winning anyway.

___

AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf contributed to this report.

___

More AP skiing: https://apnews.com/hub/skiing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports