Portugal Colonial - Kilde looks to set Norwegian tone in Olympic downhill

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Kilde looks to set Norwegian tone in Olympic downhill
Kilde looks to set Norwegian tone in Olympic downhill

Kilde looks to set Norwegian tone in Olympic downhill

Aleksander Aamodt Kilde will bear the weight of an expectant nation when the Norwegian competes in alpine skiing's opening event of the Beijing Winter Olympics, the men's downhill, on Sunday.

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Kilde's compatriot Aksel Lund Svindal, now retired, won skiing's blue riband event in Pyeongchang four years ago ahead of another Norwegian, Kjetil Jansrud, who will return to action in Beijing two months after sustaining a knee injury in Beaver Creek.

Multiple world championship medal winners Svindal and Jansrud formed the backbone of the so-called 'Attacking Vikings', the super-competitive Norwegian speed team.

Svindal won super-G gold and downhill silver at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Jansrud captured Olympic super-G gold in 2014 and bronze four years later, as well as a downhill bronze in Sochi and giant slalom silver in 2010.

Kilde, whose previous best at an Olympics was 13th in the super-G in both Sochi and Pyeongchang, has big boots to fill, but the 29-year-old is coming into the form of his life, most recently winning the first of two downhills on the testing Kitzbuehel course.

"Throwback to my first two Olympics and some great memories with these two heroes," Kilde posted on social media along with photos of Svindal and Jansrud before departing for China.

"Proud to be representing my country once again in Beijing 2022. Let's gooo!!"

The Norwegian, who is one half of alpine skiing's golden couple with his girlfriend, US star Mikaela Shiffrin, has progressed enormously since an accident a year ago.

"I looked through my phone this morning and a photo from one year ago popped up and I was standing on my balcony in Innsbruck with crutches, having just had an operation on my knee," Kilde said after his Kitzbuehel win.

"It's quite different now," he added, saying the timing of that win "couldn't be better, to be honest. I'm just so stoked, so it's good for the Olympics".

- Odermatt threat -

Kilde faces stiff competition from a number of familiar faces, notably up-and-coming Swiss racer Marco Odermatt, who leads the overall World Cup standings ahead of the Norwegian and will target podium finishes in not only the downhill and super-G, but also the giant slalom.

Odermatt finished behind teammate Beat Feuz, reigning world and Olympic bronze medallist, in the second Kitzbuehel downhill, and will be a real threat on the Yanqing course.

No Olympic downhill, of course, would be complete without a strong Austrian presence.

Double world speed champion Vincent Kriechmayr will lead the charge, alongside teammate Matthias Mayer, the 2014 Olympic gold medallist and super-G champion in 2018, and relative unknown Daniel Hemetsberger.

Italy's veteran pairing of Dominik Paris and Christof Innerhofer, and even France's Johan Clarey -- at 41 the elder statesman on the World Cup circuit -- cannot be discounted on a piste that is untested after scheduled World Cup races were cancelled because of Covid-19 protocols in China.

Featuring hard-packed artificial snow in bitterly cold conditions, the course is steep and will be sure to be testing given its icy surface on terrain that pitches and rolls and features four jumps.

"This might be one of the best racing mountains in the world," said Bernhard Russi, the "piste architect" who has been creating courses for the International Ski Federation since 1980, having won gold and silver for Switzerland in the Olympic downhills in 1972 and 1976.

"It's going to be a very challenging course," with three training runs scheduled from Thursday ahead of Sunday's downhill proper.

After a free ski on the course, Mayer said it was "as expected, the snow reminds me of North America".

"The terrain looks good, relatively steep, it should be challenging."

Past Olympics may have thrown up a couple of outsiders who have made the podium in speed events, but Yanqing looks set for a duel royale between Kilde and Odermatt, with the old timers set to pounce on any rookie error.

Programme (all times GMT)

Thursday February 3, first downhill training 0300

Friday, February 4, second downhill training 0300

Saturday, February 5, third downhill training 0300

Sunday, February 6, downhill 0300