VAIL, Colorado (Reuters) - Norway’s Lasse Kjus stands alone as the only skier to win medals in all five events at a single alpine world championships but the Attacking Viking could soon welcome a new member to skiing’s most exclusive club.
Slovenia’s Tina Maze, who has already won gold medals in the downhill and combined events and a silver in Super-G, needs a podium finish in Thursday’s giant slalom and Saturday’s slalom to earn a place in the alpine record books.
Coincidentally, Kjus skied his way into alpine history on the same mountain when the world championships were last staged in Vail/Beaver Creek in 1999.
“I think she will make it,” Kjus told Reuters as he prepared for a ski legends event on Wednesday. “It will be a little bit tough but she has the chance.
“If she is standing there going into the slalom with four medals then she will have some mental issues I tell you.
“That was a struggle I was fighting with myself. It was like having a split personality up there.
“One wants safety the other wants pull it together and fight for it.”
Kjus began his world championship assault 16 years ago by tying for gold in the Super-G with Austrian Hermann Maier then capturing a silver in the downhill.
Silver in the combined was followed by gold in the giant slalom, setting the stage for a nervy championship finale - the slalom, his weakest event.
Leading after the first run, Kjus wrestled with his game plan of the second leg; caution or attack.
Taking a slightly less aggressive run, the Norwegian all-rounder crossed 0.11 seconds behind Finland’s Kalle Palander to complete what is considered one of the most remarkable feats in alpine skiing.
Kjus finished his ski racing career with a combined 16 world and Olympic medals, including gold in the combined on home snow at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, but the fortnight in Colorado nearly two decades ago stands out as his greatest feat.
“It was 14 fantastic days, I was in the zone the whole championship. It was just a fantastic achievement,” said Kjus. “I felt comfortable every day on the start and I felt I had it in me and I was able to follow my game plan.
“It was for sure the highlight of my career. For me it was the ultimate achievement.
“I struggled always as an all-rounder I wanted to do all disciplines and to succeed in one season in all of them that is what I was striving for always.”
The key to five medals, according to Kjus, is focus. Maze has also emphasized the mental aspect of her quest, refusing to look any further ahead than her next event.
“It is the focus, you have to go into the championships with the strict plan and follow it all the way through,” said Kjus. “But you are easily influenced by the results you are doing and you forget what is important.”
Maze, the giant slalom gold medal winner at last year’s Sochi Olympics, will be among the hot favourites to add this year’s world crown to her collection.
Like Kjus, the real drama is likely to unfold during Saturday’s slalom, the weaker of her final two events.
But of Maze’s 75 World Cup podiums 17 have come in the slalom, including a second place in Flachau, the final slalom coming into the world championships.
Certainly few are betting against the 31-year-old Slovenian.
“It’s incredibly difficult what she is trying to do,” Austrian great Franz Klammer, regarded as one of the best skiers of all-time, told Reuters. “Very few people ski all five events.
“I don’t know if there are 10 skiers out there who will ski all five, and then making medals in all five of them is a tall task.
“But I think she can manage it.”
Editing by Frank Pingue