Updated Dec. 13
In his first World Cup giant slalom race, held at Val d'Isere, France, last weekend, Jon Olsson got off to an impressive start, but ended up not finishing his first run.
He started in position 53 and in order to qualify for the second run, he had to finish his first run in the top 30. At the first split-time recording on his first run, he was in 39th place. He picked up speed and passed the last split in 27th place. "Then coming into the last few gates my legs were done and I did everything I could to hang on, but seven gates from the finish I made a mistake and got thrown on my inside ski and the day was over," Olsson wrote on his blog.
Despite not finishing his first World Cup race, Olsson's optimistic about the future. "At first I was bummed, but when I got down and caught my breath and got to hear the split times I almost did not care," he wrote. "I came here to have fun and go all out, so I did and seeing that I can almost qualify with bib 53 makes me very very stoked on the future!"
This week, Jon Olsson got a very important phone call, one he's been waiting for for a long time: He got the invite to compete in his first World Cup alpine ski race, taking place this weekend in Val d'Isere, France. Olsson's goal is to make the 2014 Winter Olympics as part of the Swedish alpine ski team, and getting into World Cup races brings him a step closer to making the Olympic team.
Until now, Olsson, one of the world's best freeskiers, has been racing Europa Cup, the minor leagues of World Cup ski racing. Each country has a limited number of athletes it can send to World Cups -- Olsson's home country of Sweden can send three to Val d'Isere.
At a recent Europa Cup GS race in Trysil, Norway, Olsson placed 15th and 20th. He's now ranked 30th overall in Europa Cup rankings, and his FIS points make him the third highest ranked athlete in Sweden for GS.
"It feels kind of unreal. I have always believed in what I have done, but I guess a part of me has still listened to all the people saying that I would never make my alpine comeback and that it was a terrible idea," Olsson wrote on his blog after getting the call. "No matter what happens after this I feel that I have proved them wrong. Sure, I have a long way to go before I reach the top, but I did get as far as a World Cup start, something that no one can take away from me."
Guenther Birgmann has been coaching Olsson since 2007, spending summers training in New Zealand with the Treble Cone Race Academy, where Birgmann is the program director and head coach. He's watched Olsson's transform from an X Games gold medalist to a top ski racer. "Jon's performance and skills have been recognized by the Swedish Federation, which has awarded him with a start position in the World Cup," Birgmann told ESPN. "You can imagine how political that is if a freerider (of course, one of the best in the world) suddenly becomes the number three ranked alpine racer in Sweden."
Just the fact that Olsson is getting a World Cup start is accomplishment enough, Birgmaan says, but he also won't be surprised if Olsson finishes the race with a good result. His starting position in this weekend's race will be around 60, and only the 30 fastest times from the first run qualify for a second run.
"Jon has a tremendous athletic potential and I'm sure that he will surprise us all. It will take time in the World Cup circuit to become a top performer and I'm sure he will do so," Birgmaan says. "In the first World Cup race, it is all depending on his start position and in what condition the track will be with his start position. Let's say if he starts with start position 60, he'd need to ski faster than 30 guys who started ahead of him. This will be quite challenging because with every racer, the track will become slower."
Olsson's keeping his expectations for the weekend realistic. "What do I think of my chances? Well, to be honest it's going to be a tough one," he wrote. "I really don't care though, I am going to go out there, smile all day and ski as fast as I can. Breaking into the WC takes time, I just have to do my best, stay motivated and most of all keep having fun."
"I just feel such a relief that if nothing else I will at least have raced a World Cup race in my ski racing career," Olsson wrote. "That's a very nice and unusual 'check box' to have next to the X Games medals."