The date is April 13, 2020, more than a month since the de facto end of the World Cup season in Kvitfjell, and this season’s overall champ, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, remains the only crystal globe-winner who has yet to receive his prize.
The experience has been unconventional to say the least. Both he and the women’s champion, Federica Brignone, were denied the privilege of celebrating their career-first overall titles before a cheering crowd at World Cup finals, which were canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, along with the last few weeks of the season. For Kilde and Brignone, the ceremony must take place in the comfort of their own homes, surrounded by a small group of loved ones, as the crystal globes are delivered via mail service.
When Ski Racing Media spoke with Kilde on Monday, he was still not sure when his prize would arrive. Last he heard, the globe was held up at customs — its arrival delayed from Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, which was, at one point, the anticipated final race of the men’s World Cup season.
“It was definitely weird to get that phone call far away from everyone else, having this feeling at home in your living room instead of in the finish area,” the Norwegian said. “It’s a different way to win the globe than anyone else has done it before.”
In his apartment in Oslo with his girlfriend by his side, Kilde patiently awaits the arrival of the globe, and he has been struggling to wrap his head around the achievement. Unlike an Olympic or World Championship medal, an overall title signals collective success, that an athlete consistently delivered race after race across multiple disciplines.
Kilde found the podium seven times throughout the season, in super G, alpine combined, and downhill. It is typical of Kilde to excel in the speed events. But in the 2019-20 season, he kept his hat in the overall ring by finishing no worse than seventh in five (out of seven total) giant slalom starts. He finished second in the alpine combined, third in the super G, fourth in the downhill, and eighth in the giant slalom standings.
Brignone also had incredible success across multiple disciplines, despite having come into the season with only the giant slalom globe in mind. The Italian led her team to win the overall Nations Cup and became the first woman in her nation to win the overall in 53 years of World Cup history. Brignone must make room for three globes on her shelf. Not only did she take home the coveted overall title, she also completed her mission of winning a giant slalom globe, as well as alpine combined. In total, Birgnone podiumed 11 times across four disciplines in the 2019-20 season, five of which were wins. To add to her accolades, Brignone finished second in the super G, third in the downhill, and third in the parallel.
By the numbers, it was an impressive season for the 29-year-old Italian.
“Winning the overall title was a dream, my biggest dream,” she wrote in a letter to ANSA, the leading wire service agency in Italy. “Like many other skiers, I have always thought that the overall globe is worth more than a World Championship or Olympic medal, because it shows breadth and continuity all season long, not just a one-off fluke. My true goal was always the GS globe, but in the last races, I would have given my whole self in parallel and slalom as well to try to sweep the overall.”
The points were tight for both competitors coming into what should have been the final races of the season. Mikaela Shiffrin, who took a six-week hiatus from competition after the passing of her father, was set to return to racing in Are, Sweden. Both Shiffrin and Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova were staged to give Brignone a run for her money in the technical disciplines.
Kilde was also in a tight battle with France’s Alexis Pinturault and Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen. Had the races in Kranjska Gora and Cortina been held, and if Kilde were unable to maintain his consistency GS, the technical superstars would have had a shot at overtaking the title.
When it comes to the 2019-20 World Cup season, one thing is for sure: We simply don’t know how the last couple weeks would have shaken out. But does that make the titles any less meaningful? Not to the athletes, it doesn’t.
“I started 25 races out of 30 this year, more or less the number of races we do during seasons of big events, so I don’t think we should talk about a ‘half’ cup,” Brignone wrote. “I scored a record for points with really high averages in six disciplines and I ended up in the top three out of six rankings: the overall, GS, AC, SG, DH and Parallel. What else could I have done?”
Kilde and Brignone agree that their biggest regret is the lack of celebration with teammates. Kilde, for one, remembers being alongside his teammates, Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud, when they achieved overall greatness.
“I’ve experienced a lot watching big achievements with Aksel and Kjetil and being on a team with them, and I’ve always wanted to be apart of it as well and I have been, just not in the same way, until now,” said Kilde.
Kilde, 27, had his first World Cup start in 2012, just a few years after Svindal won two overall titles. During his time on the team, he’s watched both men earn multiple globes in the super G and downhill, as well as multiple Olympic and World Championship medals. Since the conclusion of the season, the friends have been in communication almost every week, and often go biking or running together while keeping their distance. But it is not the same as being able to hug, raise a glass and celebrate success.
“We haven’t really been able to sit down and talk about it and have a good time yet. But that will come,” he said. “I’ll gather a big group of good friends and good teammates around because without them this would not have been possible at all. We are always working together and being a part of Team Norway with Aksel and Kjetil in the lead, that’s definitely something I’ve needed to achieve good results. Without them, this would not have been possible.”
Brignone also misses the opportunity to honor her country and her hard work. Unlike Kilde, she has already received her globes in the mail. They were delivered at the end of March to her parents’ house, since her home up a mountainous road in Valle d’Aosta does not receive mail delivery.
“I really wish I could have held the crystal globe in my hands and raised it up to the sky the way I watched all the previous champions do, back when I could only dream of my own turn as overall champion,” she expressed. “I wish I could have celebrated on the podium with my teammates. I am aware that repeating what I have done this season won’t be easy, but sooner or later I want to experience the emotions of holding the globe in my hands singing the Italian anthem.”
Given the lack of finality to the 2019-20 season, both champions have already begun to look ahead toward next year. With spring skiing canceled, and summer training up in the air, fitness has been their key focus ahead of the uncertain off-season schedule. It could be months until either athlete gets to ski again.
“Our wins got in the shadow of [coronavirus] but that’s the way it is,” said Kilde. “As long as I’m happy with what I’ve achieved, that’s the most important thing. The new season, we’ll see when it happens, or if it happens, or if we’ll be able to do some ski training in the future. So for now, we just need to take it day by day.”