Who said that alpine skiers just have to be constantly focused on their work and control – if not completely hide – their emotions?
A young Norwegian star Atle Lie McGrath proved that you can succeed in sports simply by being yourself. For him, that sometimes means wearing a retro haircut or growing a mustache to play with his teammate and “partner in crime”, Lucas Braathen.
“Business in the front, party in the back,” the 22-year-old wrote social media as he described his last “mullet haircut”.
“It’s more about realizing that I can be myself and that I don’t have to take myself too seriously. And when I’m having fun off the slopes, I’m doing better on the slopes. So I just focused on having fun,” McGrath admitted in an exclusive pre-season interview.
His laid-back demeanor also helped in the snow:
“Last year after the Olympics I was just grateful to be able to ski and have fun, and with that came the results. So this year is also a bit of, you know, just doing fun things, not taking life too seriously.
McGrath: I don’t have to go crazy to win races
After a disappointing experience in Beijing 2022 (DNF in GS and 31st in slalom), McGrath took his first World Cup victory in Flachau Slalom in March, followed by another success in the finals in Courchevel-Meribel.
“The end of last year was very nice because then I really felt that I had used my potential on the hill”, explained the 22-year-old.
“I’ve been skiing really well for many years, but I don’t really like competing in the World Cup. And then being really close to winning a couple of races and finally getting the first one and then the second straight away was just amazing. “
While his friend Braathen was already on top of the podium twice before Beijing, Atle needed a little more time to flourish.
What made him finally click?
“What I learned last year is that I don’t have to go 100% and ski with my head under my arm and you know, crazy. I don’t have to do that to win races,” he said.
“Actually, I can ski smart, and all I need is good, solid skiing. And that’s enough to be there and fight for, you know, good results. So I think that’s the most I took from last year and that gives me some confidence this season as well.
McGrath: Why not show real emotion?
It’s not often you see a skier crying with joy on the podium, as he did last season after the night slalom in Schladming, or madly celebrating a victory.
McGrath, whose father Felix raced for the United States national team, explains why he likes to express his emotions.
“I love sport for how I feel in it. You know, I get nervous, I get excited, I cry and I’m touched,” he said, adding that he probably doesn’t reflect the typical stereotype of a “cold-blooded” Scandinavian athlete.
“I think my American side is probably showing because when I do it, I don’t think, it just happens.
“But the only thing I focus on is that people like to see when they’re happy. So I thought, “Why not show real emotions and show how fun it is to ski?”. Because I really love it.”
McGrath is part of a new generation of skiers who are helping to change the image of the sport, which has been seen as closed and conservative over the last few years.
“I think it’s very important because my dad used to ski next door (Alberto) Tomb in – I would say almost – the golden age of alpine skiing,” said the Norwegian.
“And I remember watching movies from there, and these guys were just so cool, you know, there was a full show every time. They took it seriously, but it was great fun. And for me, that’s what I’m doing.” I just try to focus on: If I’m having fun and showing some good, positive energy that can, you know, spill over to others as well. So I don’t think so much about revolutionizing anything. I’m just a little piece in a big sport and I’m just trying to be myself.”
McGrath: Concentrate on Milano Cortina 2026
The technical specialist was also candid about his Olympic debut in Beijing.
“Being in Beijing was a humiliating experience because I dreamed about it so much since I was a child. I set myself the goal “in 2022 I want to be at the Olympic Games”. Realizing that I had actually achieved that goal was amazing,” he confessed.
“And then at the Olympics, although the skiing wasn’t the best, I saw some of my teammates: Alexander Aamodt Kilde won his first championship medal Sebastian Foss Solevaag redeemed from PyeongChang.
“And just like seeing how the Olympics connects everything and that sport is about more than just results, I think it was a turning point for me that I don’t have to ski for results, instead I can ski for fun. And that was a great thing to do last year. “
The 22-year-old has also made progress in the super-G this season (fifth at Beaver Creek) and looks set to be a more mature and complete athlete at Milano Cortina 2026: “Italy has my favorite mountains,” he admitted. “What excites me the most is the food, the people and the amazing snow.”