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Svindal returns to Birds of Prey

Ian Smith
Vail, CO Colorado
BOP Aksel Lund Svindal DT 12-2-08
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BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” Most athletes are hesitant to return to the scene of a horrific injury. Especially, when it nearly ends their career.

Aksel Lund Svindal isn’t most athletes.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Norwegian skier took his first run down the Birds of Prey course in Beaver Creek after a severe crash in last year’s event ended his 2007-08 season.



“It felt special for the first run (at Birds of Prey) since (the accident),” Svindal said. “I knew it was going to be special, so I prepared for that.”

During downhill training on Nov. 27 last year, Svindal crashed off the Golden Eagle Jump and into The Abyss. When he finally came to a stop ” after somersaulting into safety netting ” he was left with multiple facial fractures, a broken nose and a deep laceration to his left leg from his ski.



Doctors from the Vail Valley Medical Center performed surgery on his broken facial bones, and did minor abdominal surgery to make sure everything inside was OK. Svindal stayed in the hospital for more than a week to help began his recovery.

The hardest part came next. The winner of the 2007 overall, and multiple World Cup race titles, spent much of the next year trying to regain his strength.

“The toughest part was definitely the first part when I didn’t have much progress ” staying in hospitals, and that kind of stuff,” Svindal said. “When I started training again, I didn’t have much progress, just trying to lift weights and stuff. I was weak, really weak. After that, ever since late February when I could put the skis back on, things have been going very smooth.”



Determined to make it back to the World Cup circuit, Svindal kept rehabbing. Last weekend, he made his 2008-09 season debut in Lake Louise, Alberta, finishing seventh in the downhill and ninth in the Super-G. Even though he didn’t reach the podium, Svindal said it was a solid showing for his first time out.

Now, he’s back at Beaver Creek, just more than a year removed from the career-threatening crash. In his first downhill training run on the Birds of Prey course, he did well, taking ninth in a time of in 1 minute, 44.59 seconds.

“(My attitude today) was to get down the run without much drama, not much to write home about,” Svindal said. “(I wanted to) be over it, and start going faster and faster as the race approaches.”

That’s not to say he wasn’t thinking about Nov. 27, 2007 when he toed the starting gate.

“It’s better to think about it,” Svindal said. “Pretending it’s not there is not going to work.”

Even Svindal’s fellow competitors are happy to see him back on the course, even if it means less podiums for them.

“It’s always very good to see guys come back after a big crash,” Austrian Michael Walchhofer, the defending Birds of Prey downhill champion said. “I think that gets all the racers a good feeling.”

Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or ismith@vaildaily.com.


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