Jesper Pedersen: Just the beginning

Norway’s only PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic champion now a national celebrity

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Jesper Pedersen’s life changed for ever last February. “Nobody knew me when I went to South Korea but when I got back everybody did,” he laughs. “The TV coverage from PyeongChang 2018 was good in Norway so lots of people wanted a chat over the summer. It was pretty cool. Everyone knows me in my home town anyway but now I’m the guy with a gold medal. They think, ‘Whoa’.”

Pedersen, who has spina bifida, won his favourite event at the Paralympic Winter Games – the giant slalom sitting. It was Norway’s only gold and crowned a season that he describes as “just perfect”. This term, however, has been more of a challenge.

“At the end of June I got a bacterial infection and that’s put me out of play for some time now,” he says. “I feel good but the doctors did tests and want me to take it easy. Hopefully I’ll get results back soon and can fully commit to training again.

“It means I only just did my first ski camp of the season recently, after four months off the snow. It went OK but I don’t know if I’ve done enough skiing to be able to be ready for the world championships (in January), to fight for the medals. Even (in) the giant slalom, which I think is in my blood, I think I’ll be an underdog. But that’s my main goal for this year.”

Practice makes perfect

Pedersen believes he knows the key to his success: “I think I trained more than anyone last year – I had 50 snow days before the season even started,” he says. “I don’t think many other teams were close to that. The hard work paid off in South Korea.

“I just love the giant slalom, too. You have speed guys and tech guys on skis, and some don’t like the GS, but I find that the turns are right for me. I train it a lot. You need to know when to turn because if you go too early or too late, you’ll mess it up. That’s what I got right last season, and hopefully I haven’t forgotten it.”

Small but mighty

Norway’s recent excellence in alpine – they were one of the most successful nations at the Olympics – has surprised many for a nation of just five million people, who tend to be more interested in skiing of the cross-country variety. But Pedersen isn’t surprised, and has benefited from the set-up that’s churning out champions.

“We obviously have the conditions in Norway, with great mountains and snow all year, but we’ve also got really great trainers who’ve been in the game for centuries,” he says. “We had a very strong Olympics, and I had a great Paralympics, which is crazy for a nation of our size, to be beating the Swiss and Austrians.

“But our set-up is special. I train with the likes of (multiple world and Olympic champion) Aksel Lund Svindal at the same camps, with the same coaches, so I’m part of the team. They are really nice guys as well as amazing idols, and it’s incredible to ski with them. I love it.”

Still learning

Pedersen, still just 19, has progressed fast. This is only his third full season as a racer but he’s already dominant in giant slalom and progressing well in other disciplines, too. “I was surprised to do so well so quickly,” he admits. “It has all happened faster than I expected but I think it shows that with enough training, you can do anything.”

He’s trying not to let it all go to his head, however. “I’m back in Norway doing homework at the moment because I have neglected my studies while skiing so much. I’m doing the last year of high school over two years,” he says.

“I probably needed a bit of time doing that. But I’m already looking forward to getting back into racing. Obviously it’d be great to aim for Beijing 2022 (Paralympic Winter Games), and the world championships will come to Norway in 2021. That will be very cool.”