World Cup slalom champion Lucas Braathen retires from skiing 2 days before season starts

World Cup slalom champion Lucas Braathen retired from his sport on Friday at the age of 23 in a surprise announcement by the Norwegian skier two days before the season starts.

Braathen did not elaborate on the reasons for his decision

Men's athlete smiles while holding the Crystal Globe trophy in both hands after slalom race.
Men's slalom World Cup champion Lucas Braathen of Norway, shown celebrating with the Crystal Globe after capturing the overall season title in March of 2023, has announced his retirement from skiing. (David Ramos/Getty Images)

World Cup slalom champion Lucas Braathen retired from his sport on Friday at the age of 23 in a surprise announcement by the Norwegian skier two days before the season starts.

Braathen said he made the decision a few weeks ago and that he was "happy" and "grateful for everything I have been through in my career," adding he had informed his teammates only the evening before.

"I am done. I am a person that have always followed my own dreams and what makes me the happiest — and I'm never going to stop doing that. And I'm so proud of that," said Braathen, who got into a dispute with the Norwegian ski federation recently after doing modelling work for a rival brand of the federation's clothing supplier.

Braathen won five World Cup races and had 12 top-three results in his five seasons on the circuit.

In a video posted on his Instagram account, he thanked his fans.

With the Norwegian leaving, skiing loses one of its most vibrant personalities. Son of a Norwegian father and a Brazilian mother, Braathen is known for painting his fingernails and having a taste for fashion, while he also has a line of jewelry for sale.

"For the first time in at least half a year I'm happy, after making this decision. For the first time in years I feel free," Braathen said.

He said his ambitions to "transcend the sport" have been limited by a contract with the national federation all Norwegian World Cup skiers have to sign and which regulates their individual marketing and sponsorship rights.

"Up until the point where I debuted, the [2018] World Cup race in Val d'Isere, with skis that my dad tuned in his garage back home, that is the day where I lost my freedom," Braathen said. "I came to find that I'm locked. I cannot do my difference, whatever I do is wrong."

'A season I will never forget'

The Alpine sports director of the Norwegian federation, Claus Johan Ryste, said Braathen had not been given permission to do promotional work for J. Lindeberg, a rival brand of the team's outfitter, Helly Hansen. The skier had not paid the fine imposed by the federation for breaching the rules in his athlete's contract, according to Ryste.

Braathen won two medals at the 2019 junior world champions before celebrating his breakthrough win in the season-opening World Cup giant slalom in Soelden the following year, though he had that season cut short by a knee injury.

Last season, Braathen racked up three wins in less than a month before having surgery for appendicitis just ahead of the world championships in France. He returned in time to race the slalom in Courchevel, where he placed seventh, and went on to take the World Cup slalom discipline title.

Speaking to The Associated Press the day before his announcement, Braathen called winning the crystal globe last spring "definitely a season I will never forget. And I do also have to admit that I'm intrigued to see if I can ever make make a season any more special than that."

Braathen said it's been quite a journey since his first World Cup win three years ago.

"I can't believe that I've got a globe back home in my apartment," he said. "You know it's been a representation of all the sacrifices and the tremendous amount of work and a lot of hard decision-making throughout my career in order to make that happen. I'm extremely, extremely proud of that."

Will be missed by many

Many skiers reacted to Braathen's announcement by leaving comments on his Instagram post.

"Oh no, bro, we need your samba on the slopes," Italian skier Christof Innerhofer wrote.

"You can't do this!!!," said Johan Clarey, the French veteran who retired last season. "Guys like you are so important for our sport, hope it s not definitive."

Norwegian teammate and close friend Atle Lie McGrath wrote: "Always with you."

The International Ski and Snowboard Federation regretted the decision of one of skiing's most prolific competitors.

"Very bad news for us," FIS men's race director Markus Waldner said. "He was a race machine, but he was also a party guy, a colourful guy. We need those guys on the tour. Hopefully after some time he can solve the issues with his federation and he finds a way back. Our door is always open."

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