Svindal returns to Beaver Creek with new challenges
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado – It’s definitely a new year for Norway’s Aksel Lund-Svindal.
During the first downhill training run in preparation for last year’s Birds of Prey races, he got a round of applause from spectators and competitors alike when he reached the finish area.
All gathered a year ago were acknowledging Svindal’s ghastly crash here in 2007. Svindal’s ill-fated jump off Golden Eagle ended his 2007-08 season and cast a shadow on his career.
He broke his nose and his face in three different places. That wasn’t the worst of it. One of his skis gouged deeply into his left leg. He stayed at the Vail Valley Medical Center for more than a week after abdominal surgery to repair that leg.
Svindal not only finished his training run last year, returning to the site of his crash. He put on a show. He proceeded to win the downhill and super-G at Birds of Prey on consecutive days and then snagged bronze in the giant slalom for good measure.
And if that weren’t enough of an epic comeback story, Svindal ended up reclaiming the World Cup overall crown at the end of the 2008-09 season by two points ahead of Austria’s Benni Raich. He’s only Norway’s second two-time overall winner, joining Lasse Kjus (1996, 1999), which makes you a legend in that country.
This year at Beaver Creek is less about the 2007 crash. He acknowledged it only briefly after Wednesday’s shortened training run.
“It’s always challenging, but now, I’ve done it once,” Svindal said. “It’s always nice to get that first run done. I’ve got mixed emotions, for sure, way more positive than negative.”
That certainly is because three of his 12 career World Cup wins have come here. Svindal also won the super combined at the Birds of Prey in 2006.
But this season poses new challenges for Svindal. He sustained a lower leg injury during training at Saas-Fee, Switzerland, before the season started. He was a DNF in the season-opening giant slalom at Soelden, Austria, and he skipped the Levi, Finland, slalom to recuperate.
Svindal missing a race, short of those he skipped after his crash here two years ago, is rare. In fact, when asked if he would consider taking another week off during the season, he was blunt.
“No, I don’t think so,” Svindal said. “Unless someone forces me to take it off.”
Last weekend up in Lake Louise, Alberta, Svindal was 33rd in the downhill and 14th in the super-G. He says his leg is bothering him.
“It’s all right. It could be better. It could be worse,” he said. “It’s not perfect. But I can ski on it. I guess it’s getting better.”
He acknowledges that racing the full Birds of Prey course will be difficult in his condition because there are more turns up top.
But his competition for the overall title – Raich -pretty much believes that rumors of Svindal’s demise are premature at this point.
“He raced quite good in super-G in Lake Louise, so I think he will back,” Raich said.
Sports editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.