Steven Gerrard inspires Liverpool fan Kjetil Jansrud to alpine glory

Story highlights

  • Ski star inspired by soccer passion
  • Kjetil Jansrud is a longtime Liverpool fan
  • Hero Steven Gerrard gave him signed jersey
  • Olympic medalist calls himself "a late bloomer"

(CNN)The red No. 8 jersey hangs on the wall of Kjetil Jansrud's Norwegian apartment, taking as much pride of place as his three Olympic medals.

Signed by Steven Gerrard, the football top is a secondary award for arguably the least prestigious of that trio of Games hardware -- a bronze in the men's downhill at Sochi last year.
Jansrud's gift is a befitting one for a lifelong Liverpool fan -- in that race he was given the starting number his football hero wore for so many years as club captain.
"I remember when I was told No. 8, I was thinking that this might be my day," says Jansrud, runner-up in alpine skiing's overall World Cup standings last season and again one of the top men's contenders in 2015-16.
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After finishing third in Russia, Jansrud received a congratulatory text from Gerrard via former Liverpool player Jon Arne Riise, a fellow Norwegian.
"It's not like I have his cellphone number -- if I did maybe I would never leave him alone!" laughs the 30-year-old.
"When I got the Olympic bronze medal he promised I'd have his jersey from the weekend. It's great as he's my favorite player, the driving force at Liverpool for so many years."
That Gerrard, who now plays for Los Angeles Galaxy, should score the winning penalty late on in a 3-2 victory against Fulham that same day has merely added to the personal prestige of the Liverpool jersey now framed in Jansrud's home.
This footballing passion started at the age of five, almost by default -- his parents lacked the required cable channels to watch the Premier League growing up, so their son would sneak off to the neighbors, who happened to have a penchant for the British club.
His sporting odyssey was first shaped by players such as Steve McManaman, Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Fowler, while his highlight as a fan culminated in the pulsating Champions League final comeback in 2005 in which his close friend Riise played a starring role.
Three times Jansrud has been a visitor to Anfield for games against Chelsea, Newcastle and Atletico Madrid.
The latter game against Spanish opponents ended in a European exit for Liverpool, but Jansrud still remembers it fondly. "For me that was the best moment -- maybe 70% of the fans stayed behind to applaud the players off the pitch," he says.
Liverpool has made a positive start to the reign of new manager Jurgen Klopp, and Jansrud is cautiously optimistic about the club's future with the German.
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"He's very good at motivating and taking care of players but it will be interesting to see if he can work his magic as he did at Borussia Dortmund with it not being his native language. We will see. I hope it works out."
For now, his Liverpool watching has to be done from afar as he is focused on the World Cup season.
Jansrud is fourth in the overall World Cup standings with two victories -- in Alta Badia and Wengen -- as well as three further podium finishes.
But the target is to go one better than last season, in which he won the downhill and super-G crowns but was pipped to the overall title by Austria's Marcel Hirscher, who has led the standings for a record four years in a row.
"It will be tough to top last season," he says. "Could I have won? Maybe. It's like that with everything, you can look back and say I should have won that but it's not my way to look back in anger or disappointment.
"Personally, I see last year as my best season ever. I won two titles, got close in the overall and won some races, including the downhill in Kitzbühel -- which for us is almost like the Olympics."
Jansrud is back at the famed Austrian resort this weekend -- he finished fourth in Friday's super-G race as compatriot Aksel Lund Svindal won for the seventh time this season to extend his overall World Cup lead ahead Saturday's prestigious downhill.
Janrud's victory on the Hahnenkamm last year ranks alongside his Sochi success in the super-G, of which he adds: "It's the biggest cliché but Olympic gold is something that every kid dreams of."
The kid in question grew up in Norway's capital city Oslo, and his parents had little interest in the slopes until the family relocated to near Lillehammer, host of the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Getting some air time in Lake Louise. Downhill is fun. @fisalpine

A photo posted by Kjetil Jansrud (@kjansrud) on

Jansrud first skied at the age of seven -- much later than many of his peers -- but was immediately infatuated.
His father noticed his talent, and nurtured it.
"My Dad said, 'If we're going to do this we're not going to play around.'"
Jansrud made his World Cup debut as a 17-year-old, but his route to the top was not without difficulties. A serious back injury in 2006 left him on the sidelines for a year, while he tore knee ligaments at the 2013 world championships.
Nearly a decade on, his back is far from perfect.
"It started with bulging discs and then herniated discs. It's still a struggle sometimes as once you have that injury there's not much you can do about it," says Jansrud, whose second at Beaver Creek on December 4 is his best downhill result this season.
"I could try surgery but the risk is it might make it worse. So there are good days and bad days."
Though his father questioned his skiing future and proposed his son returned to education, Jansrud says he never once toyed with quitting a high-speed sport where competitors are "one mistake away from the hospital."
Buoyed by last season's consistency and improved health, the self-proclaimed "late bloomer" would dearly love to dethrone the all-conquering Hirscher.
So what would mean more -- Jansrud winning the overall title or Liverpool triumphing in the Premier League for the first time since 1990?
"I'd probably just go for the overall title for me first, but I'm greedy -- I'd want the Premier League title too," he concludes, laughing.