- 11 Dec 2007
- Olympic News
The Eriksen school of skiing
Stein Eriksen was born 80 years ago, on 11 December 1927 in Norway, the country where skiing reigns supreme. In addition to his spectacular successes, this Norwegian brought to alpine skiing his class and own technique which made him an emblematic figure in his sport. Eriksen is one of those athletes who turned sport into an art form where performance and grace are combined.
Speed and elegance
At the end of the 1940s, Eriksen made his debut on the international circuit: the skis were made of wood, and the boots of leather – totally unlike today’s sophisticated equipment made of composites. The rigid flags forced the skiers to ski around the obstacle, totally unlike the jointed posts of today which slalom skiers hit at full speed. When reaching a gate, the Norwegian performed a reverse-shoulder turn quite different from the traditional movement in order to get closer to the obstacles and ski faster and more fluidly. Harmony and elegance of movement were very important to Eriksen who could not conceive of performance without style: “To me, gracefulness on skis should be the end-all of the sport.”
The Olympic debut for this seductive skier came at St Moritz in 1948, the first post-war Winter Games. Among the skiing stars of the time were Frenchmen Henri Oreiller and James Couttet and Switzerland’s Karl Molitor. Eriksen competed in three events: the slalom, downhill and alpine combined, with a 29th place in the slalom as his best result. A year later, at the World Championships in Aspen, USA, he won bronze in the slalom.
It was in his own country, in Oslo, that he returned to the Olympic Winter Games again in 1952, for which he raised the five-ring flag at the Opening Ceremony of the alpine skiing events in Norefjell. For the first time, the programme included a giant slalom competition raced over a single run. Eriksen played with gravity to speed down the course at over 40 kmh and cross the finish line 479 metres below to place first ahead of the 82 other competitors who finished the race. Four days later, Stein was ready for the slalom, where he won the silver medal after the two runs, behind Austria’s Othmar Schneider and ahead of another Norwegian, Guttorm Berge. Thanks to his prowess, Eriksen gave Norway its first-ever Olympic gold and silver medals in alpine skiing.
Eriksen completed his list of wins with three gold medals at the alpine skiing World Championships in Äre, Sweden, in 1954. He returned to the Olympic Winter Games when they returned to Norway next, in Lillehammer in 1994. Aged 66, Stein Eriksen was chosen to bring the Olympic flag into the stadium alongside seven other top Norwegian athletes.
A source of inspiration
After his career as an athlete, he went to teach his technique in the United States, where he used his impeccable skiing style to zigzag his way down the slopes from California to Colorado, ending up in Utah near Salt Lake City, the city which hosted the Winter Games in 2002.
A true champion and lover of acrobatic skiing, the Norwegian was not just interested in speed: “I wanted it to look effortless, to inspire people. I wanted them to say, 'Oh God, I'd love to ski like that some day'." No worries Stein, you managed that!