Norway’s slalom superstar
An Olympic slalom bronze medallist at the age of 19 at Sochi 2014, Henrik Kristoffersen became the world No1 in the event in the 2015/16 season, before finding his domination challenged by Austria’s Marcel Hirscher. Between them, the two have topped most slalom and giant slalom podiums since then, with the Norwegian collecting his second Olympic slalom medal, a silver, behind the Austrian at PyeongChang 2018.
Where it all began
Kristoffersen was born on 2 July 1994 in Lørenskog in the Norwegian county of Akeshus, just a stone’s throw from Marikollen ski resort, where he cut his teeth as an Alpine skier. Presented with his first pair of skis at the age of four, young Kristoffersen was also a motocross fanatic, and he has continued to integrate this physically demanding sport into his training schedule.
It was during his childhood years that the rising Norwegian star first met Kjetil Andre Aamodt, whom he describes on his website as a “great role model, great skier and a great person.” The most decorated Alpine skier in Olympic history and a three-time Olympic Super-G champion between 1992 and 2006, Aamodt said Kristoffersen was the most talented young skier he had seen since Marcel Hirscher.
Living up to that praise, the youngster scored the first major victories of his career in February 2009, aged only 14, winning the slalom and the giant events at the Trofeo Toppolino in Italy, a competition widely regarded as the unofficial world junior championships.
A brilliant junior career
The young Norwegian talent then won the giant slalom title at the 2012 World Junior Ski Championships in Roccaraso (ITA). “(It’s an) indescribable feeling. There will be five more gold medals before the end of my junior career,” he wrote afterwards.
Aside from that triumph in Italy, where he also picked up silvers in the slalom and combined, Kristoffersen collected world junior gold in the combined in Mont Saint-Anne (CAN) in 2013, and the giant and slalom in Jasná (SVK) in 2014 – a double he repeated on home snow in Hafjell a year later.
Olympic bronze at 19
The Norwegian made his FIS World Cup debut in Krjanska Gora in March 2012, and made his first visit to the podium in November 2013, pocketing slalom bronze in Levi (FIN). His first victory came in the run-up to the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, in the night race in Schladming (AUT) the following January. After triumphing in what he described as “the biggest slalom race you can win”, Kristoffersen was hoisted aloft by Hirscher and Felix Neureuther, the two men he pipped to victory.
At Sochi 2014, Kristoffersen found himself a lowly 15th after the first run of the slalom in Rosa Khutor, fully 1.79 seconds behind Austrian veteran Mario Matt. A treacherous second run then saw a number of competitors ski out or lose their way entirely, while Kristoffersen conjured up a superb performance to shoot him up the standings.
Light on his skis, precise and full of attacking intent, he eventually finished third, behind Hirscher who took silver, and 0.88 seconds adrift of the victorious Matt. Aged only 19, the Norwegian became the youngest male medallist in Olympic Alpine skiing history. “It is not far between heaven and hell,” he posted on his website. “Bronze in my first Olympic Games. Creative course setting in the second run by the legend Ante Kostelic.”
The world’s best
Building on his Sochi bronze, Kristoffersen went on to become world slalom No1. In the process, he restored Norway – a global powerhouse of winter sports – to the pinnacle of Alpine skiing, following several lean years for the country’s skiers.
After winning his first World Cup giant slalom in Méribel (FRA) in March 2015, he enjoyed a remarkable run of success in the slalom in the 2015/16 season. In recording six consecutive victories, he became the first skier in history to win the four classic races (Adelboden (SUI), Wengen (SUI), Schladming and Kitzbühel (AUT)) in the same season. That stunning sequence helped him claim the slalom crystal globe at the end of the campaign.
Hirscher for company
Kristoffersen was on unstoppable form between the gates once again the following season, posting wins on Val d’Isère’s imposing Face de Bellevarde (FRA), and in Madonna di Campiglio (ITA), Abelboden, Wengen, Kitzbühel and Schladming, where he held off a storming Hirscher on the second run. The Austrian’s greater consistency over the campaign earned him the slalom crystal globe, however.
The following World Cup season saw the Norwegian take his total of slalom and giant slalom wins to 16 and climb onto every slalom podium (nine, including a victory in Kitzbühel) and six giant slalom podiums out of eight. On virtually every occasion, however, he was beaten by Hirscher and had to make do with second place in both the slalom and giant slalom standings.
Back on the Olympic podium
When the two faced off in the giant slalom at PyeongChang 2018, Kristoffersen lay a lowly 10th after a first run dominated by Hirscher. The Norwegian came back strongly on his second descent, however, flowing between the gates and taking risk after risk to post the fastest time. The last man down the hill, Hirscher held his nerve to take the gold, 1.27 seconds ahead of his Norwegian rival, with Alexis Pinturault of France taking the bronze.
“People say that when you finish second at the Games you haven’t won silver but you’ve lost the gold. Well, today I won it,” said Kristoffersen afterwards. “Marcel is unbeatable in the giant right now and I’ve just decided to train and to fight as hard as I can so I can beat him one day. Right now, though, he’s just better than everyone else.”
Four days later, Kristoffersen gave himself a golden chance of defending his slalom title by posting the fastest time in the first run, while Hirscher skied out after just a few gates. The same fate befell the Norwegian on his second run, however, leaving Swedish veteran Andre Myhrer to claim the glory.
“I was a little bit late coming out of that first hairpin and I took the next gate too wide and my boot hit the snow,” explained the unfortunate Kristoffersen. “I was up pretty quick - if I hadn’t had the pole between my legs, it was possible that I would have been okay. But that’s life, it happens.”
At the end of a campaign he had spent in the limelight but short of victories, the Norwegian said: “It was a great season, with some big improvements for me. Next season starts tomorrow and I’m going to be going for points.” It is a season in which he will be hoping to finally get the better of Hirscher in his two events.