Svindal goes back-to-back at Beaver Creek
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” Saturday’s Birds of Prey World Cup super-G may have been a changing of the guard at Beaver Creek.
Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal became only the second skier to win races on consecutive starts on the course, swooshing to a victory in 1 minute, 13.05 seconds, 0.45 seconds ahead of the other only other man who’s gone back-to-back at Birds of Prey, Austrian’s Hermann Maier.
Not only was it astonishing for Svindal to win downhill and super-G in two days after his well-documented season-ending injury here last year, but what Maier said afterward had to be icing on the cake.
“I guess he’s ” how do you call it ” (my) successor,” said Maier, who is by far the most-decorated skier at Birds of Prey. “He can step in my (shoes) or better ones. This is one, he can win every discipline, maybe slalom. I am not sure at the moment.”
Svindal shrugged sheepishly at Maier’s suggestion about his slalom skills, but there’s no question that the Norwegian is looking very much like he did during the 2006-07 season before his injuries, when he won the overall title.
“It’s not a goal I set before I got here because that’s hard to pull off,” Svindal said of consecutive wins at Beaver Creek. “Especially when you come back from a year of injury.”
Maier is the only one to win three in a row here, which he did in 1999, reeling off the super-G, downhill and giant slalom in November 1999. In fact, Maier ended up winning six-straight starts on Birds of Prey snow, including the 1999 Worlds downhill and super-G and the 2000 downhill.
Svindal was happy to be in the same company as the Austrian.
“When I first won a race, it was in super-G (in 2005 in Lake Louise, Alberta) and me and Hermann, we had a close battle for the overall super-G title, so he’s one of the biggest legends in racing,” Svindal said. “So I remember being really proud to be fighting for the red jersey (given to the points leader in a discipline) with him. He’s definitely back this year. I’m having a good fight with him.”
Svindal won Saturday with a virtually flawless run. The middle section of the course, and in particular Pumphouse, caused trouble for most of the field. With that in mind, Svindal chose when to charge and when to lay back.
“I knew that the top part and the bottom part is where you could be really fast without risking going out,” he said. “If you want to beat the guys in the midsection, it’s a bigger risk. So the bottom part and the top part was where I felt I could risk a little more and get a big reward for that.”
Ironically, Svindal had the fastest time from The Pumphouse to Golden Eagle, took it easy over that jump and then put the pedal down on the way to his 13th World Cup win, a total which includes two golds at the 2007 World Championships.
With the win, Svindal took the outright lead in the overall race with 285 points, 69 ahead of Maier. But with Maier likelyfocusing mainly on the speed events, Svindal leads Switzerland’s Daniel Albrecht by 100 points.
“It looks like that right now, but I’m not going to think about that right now,” Svindal said. “That’s so far down the road. I’m just enjoying the races.
“It’s definitely nice to get the points. I’ll give you that.”
Because of a back injury, Maier wasn’t sure he was going to make the North American swing of the World Cup this year. In retrospect, it was a really good idea.
After winning the Lake Louise super-G, he was second Saturday and has two top-20 results in downhill as well.
Saturday was his first trip to the podium at Beaver Creek since the 2004 giant slalom when he was behind Norway’s Lasse Kjus.
“Norwegians,” Maier joked with Svindal sitting by his side. “For me it’s great. I’ve won a lot of times. It’s a wonderful track here. It’s just incredible. I like this downhill. If you are fast here you can win anywhere.”
Maier should know. He has eight wins and four second-place finishes here. Knowing the course so well, the Herminator just got faster as the run went along. When he arrived in the finish area and the No. 2 flashed on the scoreboard, Maier received the type of cheers normally reserved for Americans.
Maier, who turns 36 today, pondered retirement last spring, and has been noncommittal all week when asked if he’s thinking about trying to make next season’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“If you are at this age, I am very happy to ski at this level,” Maier said. “That’s for me a great present.”
Austria’s Michael Walchhofer rounded out the podium, which should be no surprise. Walchhofer has been the most consistent racer at Beaver Creek the last three years in the speed events.
In the last three Birds of Prey downhills, Walchhofer has finished fifth, first and fifth. In the super-G the last two years? Fifth and third, ho-hum.
Though he has a good history here, Walchhofer thought the faster set-up of Saturday’s super-G, compared to previous years, helped him.
“It was a very tough and fast course,” Walchhofer said. “It was important to have a lot of motivation and let go the skis directly to the fall line. So it’s good for the downhillers. It’s always good to be on the podium, but for sure, it is special if there are such great skiers on my side.”
Svindal’s winning time of 1:13.05 was more than six seconds faster than that of Austria’s Hannes Reichelt’s (1:19.87) in 2007.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.