Reflections: Hafjell2015 Alpine Ski World Junior Championship

00 - Hafjell2015

As competition wrapped up on the sun-bathed slopes of Hafjell, the athletes and coaches of Team Norway celebrated by hoisting the Marc Hodler Trophy which recognizes the most successful team at the Junior Championships. It was an exclamation point for the host nation after seven days of competition on great slopes amongst the best junior athletes in the alpine ski world.

Key highlights for this 27th edition of the Championship were:

  • a record 49 nations participated:
  • Henrik Kristoffersen re-wrote the record book to become the most successful junior athlete with 6 Championship titles, surpassing the soon-retiring Austrian great Benni Raich.
  • The World Juniors hosted an exciting Nations Team Event, won by Norway over Austria, continuing the push towards acceptance of this new event on the Olympic Program
  • Norway recaptured the Marc Hodler Trophy, the “Nations Cup” of the World Juniors. In an exciting final day of competition, Switzerland held a narrow 5-point lead over Norway, but a show of power in both downhills (1-2-10 for the ladies; 2-4-6 in the men) pushed the Norges Skiforbund to a decisive 21-point victory. This marked the fourth time in six years Norway has taken home the overall championship which is scored off top ten results.

The Olympic legacy of 1994 is alive and well. In the 21 years since the Lillehammer Games, Hafjell (technical events) and Kvitfjell (speed events) continue to provide vibrant contribution to the Norwegian Ski Federation.

From an events perspective, Kvitfjell has become a fixture on the men’s World Cup Tour, hosting annual downhill and superG races. Hafjell has hosted World Cup events and the World Cup Final and will be the host alpine skiing venue for the 2016 Youth Olympics.

The two mountain resorts were named National Training Centres following the 1994 Games, with Hafjell established as the National Technical Training Centre (slalom and giant slalom) and Kvitfjell the National Speed Training Centre (downhill and superG).

But Hafjell has gone a step further.

As Kvitfjell is more remote (a good 50-minute drive north and with limited local accommodation) and the track has some limitations for athlete development since it is a World Cup level, Hafjell also included a speed track in the scope of their training options, which offers an annual “speed week” for up-and-coming youngsters in the Norwegian alpine system. Race hill familiarity was clearly evident in the downhill which closed out the Championships – successful leveraging home court advantage for the host nation – and pragmatic planning which converted the Team Title.

Twenty years out from 1994, the organizers knew Hafjell was due for an upgrade. These Championships saw a widening of the race tracks to permit greater ease for safety setup, broader scope for racing and training and a modest shift from the “old” Olympic race venues to more modern race hills (remember, 1994 was the “pre-shaped ski era”) that are less intrusive to the public slopes and offer quick turnaround for higher capacity to train.

Off-slope, the combination of hosting the World Juniors and Youth Olympics facilitated an investment from the Norwegian government and Olympic Committee in technology to upgrade timing and communications systems.

I’ve long admired the deep sport culture of Norway. It’s a society of doers – getting out to engage in sport of all kinds. I feel a sense of kinship with the alpine ski community of the country, as the central passion of Norwegians is for another sport (their cross-country heroes). Alpine skiing is important to them, but more a sport of widespread participation (like Canada). But they appreciate their ski racing legends and champions.

I have a profound respect for people who put athletes first – who think about every level of progression from the ski club to the elite, and work tirelessly with the sport experts on the snow to meet the needs of sport, built on a foundation of inspiring excellence.

So what stood out for me at this week in Hafjell, was this manifestation of sport culture: a thoughtful blend of investment for today that would reap the benefits well into the future for athletes. Dag Winquist (Race Chair) and his team focused on providing excellent racing venues. His on-hill team was led by experienced Chiefs Peter Gerdol (men) and Rolle Johanson (ladies) who work daily within the training environment of the National Centre and understand the ongoing needs to smoothly operate the venue to the benefit of high level competition and the athlete development pathway. The short-term needs of hosting an event did not compromise or overshadow the long-term support for the next generation of Norwegian athletes. This team spoke often about how important the Championship and Youth Olympics were in revitalising the resort and their planning for the future. They intend to keep Hafjell an alpine ski racing factory: a vibrant site for the development of future Norwegian athletes from all over their country for decades to come – with great training slopes in all events, frequent competitions and all at reasonable cost.

Heya Norge! Tusen takk. Job well done. Your custodianship of the Junior Championships has seen our sport move forward.

About Ken Read

"You're off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so…get on your way!" - Oh, the Places You'll Go (1990) Dr. Seuss
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