The Free-Racer

December 17th, 2009

If Jon Olsson was the head designer of the Swedish national ski team’s clothing sponsor, he’d precisely know how the racing suit should look like: “Just like Ingmar Stenmark’s suit from the 80s”, he laughs. Currently, Jon Olsson is supposedly the most versatile athlete on the HEAD ski team. What must have seemed to be a joke to some, is part of Jon’s everyday routine by now: The eminently successful freeskier is working on a second career as an alpine racer! His alarm rings at four o’clock in the morning, and until seven the Swede does some computer work. Afterwards, the on-snow training starts. Race training! For five hours until noon. “In the afternoon I have to give my body time for recreation, blog on my website and tune my skis”, he describes his daily schedule. A reason to prefer freeskiing to racing? “Not at all. It’s about the same. It’s just the equipment that is different...!”

That might be correct when looking on a single day, but in the medium term it is not like this at all. While his racing opponents totally focus on gates and his freeski buddies just think of park and powder from monday to sunday, Jon’s schedule has a greater variety. “I ski race on the week days and then hit up Big Air events on the weekends”, the 27-year-old says. And it seems that this kind of trainings works out great. “I feel like I am skiing stronger than ever!” In fact, Jon landed amongst the Top Ten at any important Big Air event this fall: fourth in Zurich, sixth in Berlin, sixth in Barcelona, fifth in Stockholm. It should not be forgotten that plenty of the competitors in the freestyle contests are ten years younger than the Swedish superstar and he is more than able to keep up with them. It even seems like 27 is the best age for the new super-combination of big airs and giant slalom as Jon currently ranks 102nd in the official giant slalom ranking of the FIS, the International Ski Federation.

But why all this? Jon just wants to be satisfied with himself and his ski career. He wants it to be as complete as possible. “If I finished now, I’d have the feeling I had not tried everything. But if I really make it to the World Cup...”, the all-round skier says, without telling where his objectives will end. “The Olympics would be an extra bonus and certainly a lot of fun!” His ranking in the FIS standings gives evidence that his goals are no absurd dreams. The basic criteria for a qualification to the Olympics is a place amongst the Top 500. However, the riders cannot qualify themselves directly via the ranking, but the national federations decide who gets a ticket to the Games. Jon wasn’t able to fulfill the criteria of the Swedish federation yet. “It is up to the federation to nominate me for a spot. The only thing I can do is to ski as fast as I can and I am sure that things will work out then. I still have a lot to learn and I’m in no hurry”, so his appraisement. The Swedish norm demands two Top Ten rankings in the World Cup to get the ticket to the biggest sports event in the world. “This is impossible for the 2010 Games, and even for 2014 it is a very ambitious goal!”

One should get used to the idea, that Jon is taking it serious with his career in alpine racing. Even if it has been difficult for some, Jon is reacting indulgent: “The Swedish association didn’t invite me to a Europa Cup training camp, although I was better in the ranking than the twelve guys that were invited. I had to take the initiative. I guess the people at the association doubted my earnestness. But in the meantime I believe they are starting to see that I’m 100% serious about my ambition!” Jon used to be one of Sweden’s most promising racers in his youth, but decided to fully focus on freeskiing in 2000. His last result from a FIS race dates back to 2002. Accordingly, people were amused when he entered the starting gate again in 2007. “They almost laughed at me, but when I started skiing fast again, their reactions changed,” Jon looks back to the first races after his comeback in the lycra dress. Besides, Jon’s opinion of the Olympics does not vary from the ones of the other racers: “Of course, an Olympic medal would mean more to me than the ones I have collected at the X-Games!”

But first of all, he has to get his ticket to the Olympic Games. Jon is not queuing up desultorily at any counter, he is not competing in any discipline. “I think all the alpine disciplines are fun, but I guess I don’t really have a choice as I suck at everything except the giant slalom”, he admits and adds: „And I love giant slalom!” With this statement the HEAD team rider is the very first skier who goes for a career as a top racer with already being a world-class freestyler at the same time. Many of the freeskiers had promising racing career brackets in their youth and some alpine skiers go back to the freeriding roots of skiing when they quit racing – but none has ever combined the starkly contrasting disciplines of freestyle and alpine racing. That is a novelty. Hence, none of Jon’s racing opponents has ever asked him about his own contest, the Jon Olsson Super Session. Not even for a ticket! “I guess they would be more interested in the VIP keys because of the parties and the ladies...! But of course they are welcome to drop over,” says Jon.

Meanwhile Jon Olsson is planing to drop over somewhere else. For 2014 he hopes for attending the opening ceremony of the Winter Games in Sochi – as a racer. “I expect nothing, except being there,” Jon says with confidence. And: “I will succeed!” Maybe he will even have an outfit similar to the one of Ingmar Stenmark. Apart from that, Jon’s participation would be success enough. As former racer, former freeskier, being a free-racer now!