BEIJING – A freak of nature. A beast. Ironman. The Arnold Schwarzenegger of skiing.
Aleksander Aamodt Kilde has been called each of those names and more for his unusually high ability to withstand pain and set lifting records in the weight room.
It’s a big part of what makes the Norwegian the favorite for gold in the Olympic downhill on Sunday.
“He’s always been like that,” teammate Kjetil Jansrud said. “For all the years that he’s been on the team he’s been the leading star when it comes to this whole kind of physical side of our training. … That gives him an advantage. He has a different reserve energy.”
It also gives Kilde’s massive, sculpted legs the muscles necessary to power through the most difficult turns on downhill courses while maintaining an aerodynamic tuck. Where gravity pushes lesser skiers low and off the racing line, Kilde digs in and holds steady — earning the payoff for those excruciatingly painful extra sets of repetitions over the summer.
Bench pressing more than 300 pounds (nearly 150 kilograms) with a max squat of nearly 500 pounds (220 kilograms), Kilde’s strength is legendary in skiing circles.
“Kilde is a freak of nature,” Norway team physical trainer Daniel Tangen said. “He dominates physical training. He’s the perfect athlete. He is incredibly strong in every aspect. Also, his endurance and power and anaerobic power is beyond me.”
Kilde’s affinity for intense workouts helped him quickly return to perfect shape after tearing his ACL during a training crash a year ago. He documented one such workout with his girlfriend, women's overall World Cup leader Mikaela Shiffrin, on Instagram.
No wonder he’s been a force in both downhill and super-G on the World Cup circuit this season, winning three races in each discipline.
A former overall World Cup champion, one of the few things that Kilde has not won, however, is a medal at a major championship. That seems destined to change over the coming days at the Beijing Games.
“I definitely feel some pressure," Kilde said. “But it’s nothing different than other races, because it’s been a lot of pressure throughout the year with good results from race to race. It’s been a great season and I have felt pressure from the outset — from the outside and also from myself.”
After leading the second downhill training session Friday, Kilde is in position to give Norway a second consecutive victory in skiing’s biggest race after the now-retired Aksel Lund Svindal and Jansrud went 1-2 in Pyeongchang four years ago.
“Well, he’s strong enough to do it, obviously,” Jansrud said. “He’s had a great season and I would say the pressure is on him. But he’s handled that great during the World Cup season. I don’t think it will be any (problem) now. He’s ready to defend the honors.”
Jansrud, a five-time Olympic medalist, had declared his season over after damage was detected to the cruciate ligament in his knee following a crash in Colorado in December. But he made a quick recovery and came to Beijing — albeit not in top form.
“I don’t feel like there’s that much downhill in the body,” Jansrud said after missing a gate in training and finishing nearly four seconds behind Kilde. “I’ve been out so long that I kind of lack the speed (and) the power.”
On a course that no racers had ever been on before because of the pandemic, there’s been speculation that an outsider or younger racer could do well. But Kilde believes his current form — not to mention his physique — make him better prepared for the new test than anyone else.
“When you’re in shape you handle things differently than when you’re not,” he said. “So I feel confident and I’m ready to go.”
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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf