VAIL, Colorado—Best friends, roommates, fierce competitors and leaders of Norway’s “Attacking Vikings” alpine ski team, Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Lasse Kjus are destined to be forever linked.
As a result of their countless ski racing career accomplishments, the duo were recently selected as the 2015 Legends of Honor recipients and will be inducted into the International Ski Racing Hall of Fame. Normally awarded during Vail’s annual American Ski Classic, the honors will be bestowed on the evening of February 11 during the 2015 World Championships.
When seven-year-old Kjetil Aamodt was doing his daily routine of sit-ups, push-ups and squats, his father, Finn Dag Aamodt, would shout at him from the second floor balcony that if he didn’t finish his exercises, he would not get dinner.
Kjus’ father, along with other parents, built a 40-yard Slalom slope for the neighborhood kids. By the time he was seven or eight years old, he had not only met Kjetil, but was also coached by his father.
Who can beat Aamodt and Kjus became the question first posed in earnest in 1990 when the two Norwegian teenagers won medals in every discipline at the World Junior Championships in Zinal, Switzerland.
The moment was short-lived for Kjus, however, as he crashed during training the following winter, tearing the nerve in his left deltoid muscle. In order to regain the use of his arm, he had to train the surrounding muscles to do the work the deltoid could no longer do.
Aamodt & Kjus Legends of Honor
A year later, at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, Aamodt captured his first Olympic medals, a gold in the Super-G, along with a bronze in Giant Slalom. The accomplishment was even more impressive given the fact that just three months prior to the Games, he was hospitalized with mononucleosis. Despite losing almost 25 pounds, he managed to recover in time to record Norway’s first Olympic alpine medal in 40 years.
Kjus made history of his own at the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994, becoming the first Norwegian to win an Olympic gold in the Alpine Combined event and leading a Norwegian home soil sweep that included Aamodt and Harald Christian Strand-Nilsen.
Nicknamed the “Baby Shark” for his killer instinct, Aamodt’s strong foundation in sportsmanship best defined his character.
“This is my best day as a skier,” explained Kjetil of the Lillehammer Combined. “My best friend won and I am very pleased for him.”
Four years later at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Kjus became the first alpine skier in Olympic history to earn two medals in the same day, winning a silver medal in the Downhill, which had been delayed five days due to bad weather, and following that up with a second silver medal in Combined in the afternoon.
But in February of 1999, Kjus pulled off one of the most remarkable feats in alpine skiing history when he claimed a medal in all five disciplines at the World Champions in Vail and Beaver Creek with two golds and a trio of silver. The medal sweep was highlighted by the historic gold medal tie in Super-G with Austria’s Hermann Maier, while Maier’s teammate Hans Knauss collected the bronze, a mere one hundredth of a second from a three-way tie.
Aamodt won his final Olympic gold medal in the Super-G at the 2006 Torino Games, shortly after the birth of his daughter, and after injuring his knee in the Downhill. The Torino gold distinguished him as the first male alpine skier to win four Olympic gold medals.
Aamodt & Kjus Legends of Honor
Kjetil officially announced his retirement in 2007 on a live television broadcast while accepting the award for Norwegian Sportsman of the Year. He credits Lasse, not only for his success, but also for his longevity in the sport.
“I would not have even raced Downhill without him,” offers Aamodt. “He was a speed demon…more fearless…and we were always challenging each other. Without him, I would not have won as much. He made it more fun and less boring.”
Kjus retired in 2006 and when asked what Aamodt did for him, he is quick to answer. “Absolutely nothing,” deadpans Lasse. But then the smile returns to his face and he describes his friend as a source of early inspiration.
“He was showing the way when we were 17, 18 and 19,” says Kjus, “and the camaraderie was helpful in taking away the pressure, especially in the bad times.”
These days, the question of “Who Can Beat Aamodt and Kjus” is posed on Norwegian television as a popular game show pits pairs of celebrities against Kjetil and Lasse. Playing off of each other’s trademark dry humor, the duo goads each other, along with the competition, through challenges that range from running a giant hamster wheel to answering quizzes to identifying mysterious food while blindfolded.
In addition to their game show antics, Aamodt and Kjus are both fully engaged in the next stages of their professional careers, Lasse with his successful Kjus clothing line and Kjetil with a multitude of interests that include motivational speaking, serving as a board member of UNICEF as well as on the FIS Alpine Executive Committee.
Over the course of their combined 33-year World Cup careers, Aamodt and Kjus accounted for a total of 39 World Cup individual wins, three overall World Cup titles, 23 World Championships medals and 13 Olympic medals.
Created in 1984, the Legend of Honor Trophy has been presented annually by the Vail Valley Foundation during the American Ski Classic to an individual or family that has profoundly impacted the nature of skiing and ski racing throughout the world.
Aamodt & Kjus Legends of Honor
Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Lasse Kjus will join previous Legend of Honor recipients including:
1984 Emile Allais 1998 Nancy Greene-Raine
1985 Birger Ruud 1999 Pepi Gramshammer
1986 Dick Durrance & Gretchen Fraser 2000 Marielle & Christine Goitschel
1987 Toni Seelos 2001 Toni Sailer
1988 Stein Eriksen 2002 Billy Kidd & Jimmie Heuga
1989 Freidl Pfeifer 2003 Gustavo Thoeni
1990 Karl Molitor 2004 Bob Beattie
1991 The Werner Family 2005 Bernhard Russi
1992 Andrea Mead Lawrence 2006 Rosi Mittermaier-Neureuther
1993 Christl Cranz 2007 President Gerald Ford & Family
1994 Christian Pravda 2008 Franz Klammer
1995 Tom Corcoran 2009 Cindy Nelson
1996 Barney McLean 2010 The Crazy Canucks