Norway’s Svindal conquers downhill | VailDaily.com

Norway’s Svindal conquers downhill

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com

BEAVER CREEK — Temperatures hovered in the single digits. Steady snow created bumps on the course and visibility was so poor that people in the grandstand could barely make out the finish banner. But Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal was clipping gates and making turns so sure you'd have thought it was a perfect blue-sky day.

Svindal, 30, showed himself to be king of the downhill at Beaver Creek on Friday, collecting his 11th podium and his fourth downhill win at Birds of Prey. The gracious Norwegian made it look easy, but he said it was anything but.

"It doesn't feel that easy, especially at the start," he said, citing the low-light conditions. "But I can't change that, and if I want to win this, I have to be super aggressive."

Svindal carried a fluid line through the top half, with minor blips in the jump section of Screech Owl slowing him down for the Golden Eagle portion of the course. However, he skied with abandon on the later half, making up the time he lost — the effort was good enough to edge out Austria's Hannes Reichelt by nearly two-tenths of a second with a time of 1 minute, 44.50 seconds.

"I decided to never let go of my tuck and just go with everything down (to the finish)," Svindal said. "It was good, solid skiing on top, but I think the most important thing is that I decided to get after it. Nobody's going to ski this perfect in these conditions, so if you can't ski it perfect you have to ski it hard."

Redemption for Reichelt and Fill

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Reichelt took second place with a solid run of 1:44.67, followed by Peter Fill, of Italy, with a time of 1:44.70. Reichelt came back from a 25th-place finish last weekend at Lake Louise, Alberta. He said some technical training helped shave the microseconds off his runs to get on the podium.

"At Lake Louise, I wasn't far from the podium or top five. In the World Cup it's so close between s**t races and good races. That's the beautiful thing about our lives in ski racing. I'm not ashamed to be second behind Aksel (Svindal). He's the dominator of the speed events. I'm really happy that I was very close behind."

Fill celebrated his first podium at a major race since Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, in 2011. The result followed several years of health problems and unsatisfactory finishes.

"This podium I dedicate to my family, my girlfriend and people who were close behind me the last few years," said Fill. "It wasn't easy times with no good results. I say to my family, 'Thank you.'"

Tough day on the slopes

More than 60 skiers ran the course on Friday, after only a day of training to get familiarized with the modified run. Because of the new Raptor Women's World Cup the week before, the traditional Birds of Prey downhill course was changed to merge with the women's run on the top part.

That means some of the traditional jumps and high-octane features of the old course were replaced with the wider-arcing turns of the Raptor course. It was a much slower race overall, compounded by the snowy conditions and low visibility.

Even those who did well on Friday's course said they missed the traditional Birds of Prey downhill, which is expected to return in 2014.

American Steven Nyman, who placed 48th today, said the course wasn't what he expected and that it required a lot of quick weight shifting from foot to foot to keep up with the sweeping turns. Svindal, who has had both a win and a traumatic crash on the Birds of Prey course in the past, said he still prefers the traditional run.

"This (Raptor) course isn't easy. It's a good course, but the problem is the other course is one of the best in the world, so it's hard to top that," he said. "The old one flows better and is faster. On the other course, you can't get away with mistakes, but you can on the Raptor. On the Raptor, your attitude is almost more important than your skiing, I think."

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and mwong@vaildaily.com.