Two for two: Injury-hit Norway fields reduced downhill teams

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

Henrik Røa 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 Røa 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 it’s a nice experience. Definitely looking forward to the downhill,” Røa said after training on Friday, a day after he placed 17th in the super-G.

The story isn’t much different for the women’s team, with also just two starters in Saturday’s downhill: Kajsa Vickhoff Lie and Ragnhild Mowinckel.

The men’s team, dubbed The Attacking Vikings, could have fielded five racers for Sunday’s downhill — four regular spots plus an extra place earned by Jansrud’s 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 Røa with a tough task to replace them on the big stage.

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

Røa’s best result in his six World Cup starts was an impressive 16th place in the classic downhill in Kitzbühel 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, it’s OK. I’m not feeling a huge pressure, I’m still able to ski OK.”

Even though Røa has just joined, he already carries the same laid-back attitude that’s been a trademark of the team.

Skiing on a challenging new course in Sunday’s downhill? It doesn’t scare him off, having had several firsts on demanding slopes this season.

“I have never been to Kitzbühel. I have never been to Garmisch. From my side it’s more or less the same,” Røa said. “It’s still the same mentality going in. It’s 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 team’s been struck very hard. It’s sad. I miss both Alex and Adrian,” Jansrud said. “It’s a different feel in the team.”

Lie has definitely felt it.

“I was the lone athlete last year so now we’re 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 don’t look at the results at the moment, but I know that if I still keep doing what I’m doing, the results will come.”

As Svindal and Jansrud have shown over the years, Norway shouldn’t be too worried about the size of its team.

“Usually it’s enough for Norway to have one guy at the start,” Jansrud boasted, “because we are winning anyway.”

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AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf contributed to this report.

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