by Michael Mastarciyan
Race fans, friends and family know him as Espen Lysdahl, but if you ask Norwegian ski racing superstars Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud who the new kid on the block is - they point to the 21-year-old ski prodigy from the suburbs of Oslo, and tell you his real name is Project X.
“We don’t call him Espen, we call him Project X,” Jansrud says with a laugh.
“Yah, Project X was born in 1990 and this was just when Lasse Kjus and Kjetil Andre Aamodt were starting to break through. So the Norwegian Ski Federation joined forces with a research lab in Oslo and they were able to extract the DNA of Kjus and Aamodt and they made a super-DNA and this guy was born in a laboratory and now he’s being prepared for the World Cup,” Svindal adds with a mischievous smile.
Fantasy yes, but also high praise from two of the best ski racers Norway has ever produced, but nevertheless praise Lysdahl takes with a smile and even a witty comeback!“Yes, that DNA project they’re talking about is just an excuse for me being in better physical shape,” Lysdahl says with a chuckle.
“Each year we have a physical test on the team called Ironman, and last year I ran faster than Kjetil and lifted more weights in squats than everyone else, except for Lars (Elton Myhre). This year Kjetil and Aksel didn’t even show up for the Ironman test, they were obviously scared that I would beat them again, ha ha! But to be more serious, it means a lot that they consider me a well developed ski racer who’s in good physical shape. Kjetil gave me a bit of advice when I met him once when I was younger, and that was that the only way you can ensure yourself that you will be better than everyone else is to work harder than everyone else every single day. I learned so much from them on the America trip last season (Lake Louise and Beaver Creek), and I’m grateful that they’ve been really helpful, encouraging and have really made me feel like part of the team.”
“Yes, all kidding aside, Espen is a really good skier. He’s a typical Norwegian skier, he skis well in all four events and has been kicking some serious butt in the Jr. World Championships and stuff,” Svindal adds.Kicking butt indeed.
Lysdahl may have had a fairly quiet year on the World Cup and European Cup circuit this past season, but he was a force to be reckoned with at the 2010 FIS Junior World Championships in Region Mont Blanc, France. It was on that stage that the young ski from Asker, Norway captured a silver medal in the Super-G and a bronze in Giant Slalom - in as Svindal describes it - “typical Norwegian” fashion - showing the world he can tear it up in speed and technical disciplinThis past season was a year of ups and downs for Lysdahl, skiing in a mix of FIS, World Cup and Europa Cup races. Lysdahl says despite not having any major successes this year, he still gained valuable experience he’ll be able to build on in the future.
“I think the highlight of last season was my 10th place in the Madonna di Campiglio Europa Cup slalom where I competed with lots of World Cup racers. I think I showed everyone that even with only one slalom session since I’d been back from the Lake Louise/Beaver Creek trip, which was a speed camp only, I hadn’t forgotten how to ski slalom. That result qualified me for the World Cup race in Zagreb, which was my World Cup slalom debut.”
“My worst memory of the season was when I broke my hand at a FIS race in Austria in February. I couldn’t ski for two months, and even had surgery on it again very recently. It was the second time I broke it. The first time was about two-and-a-half years ago in Austria, but that break was way more serious and they had to insert 10 screws and one plate to get everything back together. Unfortunately everything got messed up when I broke it again this year, but now I think it’s pretty much fixed.”"I think the biggest thing I learned this year is that when you race with world class skiers and beat them during training you should carry that confidence on to race day. Paying their skiing ability too much respect on race day usually means they beat you. I'm going to focus on my confidence in my future races so that eventually one day I'll will beat them,” Lysdahl adds.
For now, Lysdahl is spending the spring and summer working out, rehabbing his hand and getting some much needed rest and relaxation after a long season on the slopes and before off-season on-snow training kicks into high gear.
“Right after I took off my cast, I went to Dubai with a friend of mine. It was legendary! 35 degrees everyday. Did not think of skiing or injuries one single day, just played golf, chilled by the pool and did water sports! I also celebrated my 21st birthday there, which ended up being really expensive, but it was worth every penny, or dirhams or whatever! Then I visited my brother in London and we celebrated his 25th birthday, truly good times! Finally a couple of weeks ago I picked up our boat, right before the spring in Norway kicked in! Nothing wrong with spending a day on the ocean watching all the beautiful local scenery on the beaches of Norway - and I’m being politically correct when I say that, ha ha!”
Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud having a little fun with new kid on the block Espen Lysdahl - aka Project X