In climbing on to the podium at PyeongChang 2018, Ragnhild Mowinckel and Nina Haver-Løseth won Norway’s first Olympic medals in women’s Alpine skiing in 82 years. The two were inspired in their childhood years by the exploits of the so-called “Attacking Vikings”, the new wave of Norwegian Alpine skiers who took the country to the top of the sport in the early 1990s and have helped it stay there ever since.
Norway’s Alpine skiers are very much part of the international elite these days, featuring prominently at the Olympic Games, the World Cup and the World Championships. It has not always been that way, however.
When Kjetil Andre Aamodt won the super-G at Albertville 1992 at the age of 20, he became only the second Olympic Alpine skiing champion from Norway and the first since Stein Eriksen topped the giant slalom podium at Oslo 1952. A few days after Aamodt’s exploits, Finn Christian Jagge got the better of the great Alberto Tomba in the slalom to take Norway’s tally of Olympic Alpine skiing golds to three.
The country’s female skiers had made even less of an impression on the Olympic stage. Prior to PyeongChang 2018, their only medal in the discipline had been Laila-Schou Nilsen’s bronze in the Alpine combined at Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936, where Alpine skiing made its Olympic debut.
Lillehammer 1994 played a major part in changing all that, however, as Mowinckel explained. “I was five or six and I remember us watching TV round at our neighbours. The Alpine skiing was on, and I can remember watching the stars, the crème de la crème. It was the golden age of Norwegian Alpine skiing.”
One of the highlights of those Games was a famous Norwegian clean sweep in the men’s Alpine combined at Hafjell, celebrated by an ecstatic crowd of over 60,000. Lasse Kjus took the gold, with Andre Aamodt and Harald Christian Strand Nilsen completing the podium. Recalling what followed, Aamodt said: “There were 110,000 people there for the medal ceremony. It gave us all goosebumps for the rest of our lives.”
“I think Lillehammer 1994 created a whole new atmosphere for Alpine skiing in Norway,” said Haver-Løseth. “The legend of the Attacking Vikings was born in the 1990s and it’s still in us today.”
Those Games on home snow marked the start of a medal rush for Norway, though only for their male skiers. Hans Petter Buraas won slalom gold at Nagano 1998, while Aamodt went on to become the most decorated Alpine skier of them all, with eight medals, four of them golds. For his part, Kjus picked up five Olympic medals, Aksel Lund Svindal four (two of them gold), Kjetil Jansrud five (one gold), while Henrik Kristoffersen became the youngest men’s slalom medallist of all time when he collected bronze at Sochi 2014 at the age of 19.
Suitably inspired by the class of Lillehammer 1994, Haver-Løseth and Mowinckel have since made their breakthrough, the former excelling in the technical events and the latter showing her prowess in the speed events.
In taking silver behind the USA’s Mikaela Shiffrin in the giant slalom at PyeongChang 2018, Mowinckel ended her country’s 82-year wait for an Olympic women’s Alpine skiing medal. Five days later, she added another, finishing a runner-up to Italy’s Sofia Goggia by just 0.09 seconds and relegating the great Lindsey Vonn to third.
Haver-Løseth then got in on the act in the final Alpine event of the Games, forming part of the Norway sextet that took bronze in a team event won by Switzerland. “I’m not waiting for 2022 and neither are the other girls,” she had said in the lead-up to PyeongChang 2018.
Andre Aamodt and his fellow Attacking Vikings opened the way, and Mowinckel, a bronze medallist in the combined at the 2019 World Championships, and Haver-Løseth have built on their legacy. Together they are intent on helping Norway maintain its hard-won status as the world’s leading Winter Games force.