Svindal returns triumphantly to Beaver Creek
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado Norways Aksel Lund Svindal has come full circle in just a little more than a year.During last years downhill training run for Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek, Svindal, then the defending World Cup overall champion, crashed of Golden Eagle, breaking his cheekbone in three places as well as his nose. Perhaps even more career-threatening, one of his skis sliced deeply into his left leg, ending his season.In storybook fashion, 53 weeks later, Svindal returned to Birds of Prey and won Fridays downhill in 1 minute, 43.85 seconds, just ahead of Liechtensteins Marco Buechel (1:43.91) and Canadas Erik Guay (1:44.20).Well, if I wrote it myself, I probably would have won the last two races (in Lake Louise, Alberta, last week) as well, Svindal joked.Svindals second win here (2006 super combined) and 12th career World Cup win, including Worlds in 2007, had all the makings of a made-for-television Movie of the Week, and he and his fellow competitors reveled in it.Im happy for Aksel, Buechel said. This is totally OK being second behind him. Its an honor for me. No worries.Its unreal. Aksels a buddy and a good friend, Guay said. To have an injury like that last year and come back one year later on the same (course) and win it, thats something huge. Sometimes, it messes with your head a little bit. It seems like that first training run (Tuesday) he took it easy, went down smart, and today, he knew he could do it.Mind over matterSvindals return was a major story going into the week of racing. When he crossed the finish line Tuesday during training, athletes and fans stopped to applaud, recognizing the moment.Svindal said Friday that going over Golden Eagle was worse on Tuesday for him. Friday was all business.Today, I felt, If Im going to be faster, I have to get (myself) together, he said. I think I did it pretty smooth and when I landed it, it was no big deal. I wasnt thinking about it. I was thinking about the rest of the course. I think today I did a good job of putting that behind (me).Ironically, Svindal took Golden Eagle perfectly. His only miscue came on the ensuing jump, Harrier, causing him to lose a tick or two going into Red Tail, the last hurdle to victory.I dont know what to say. It feels different, Svindal said. It feels really good for sure. This is different than when I won before. But I think thats a good sign. Its more important than the other ones Ive won.That, doubtless, is a reflection of his travails of the last year or so. Svindal spent more than a week in the Vail Valley Medical Center before he was even fit to go home. Rehab was long and painful, but the former all-around champ said he was 100 percent physical, and had also hurdled the mental residue of his crash.You always know that deal. Its a dangerous sport, for sure, Svindal said. We have a lot of injuries on the World Cup tour. … When you inspect the course, everything looks like, I can pull this off, no worries. Its a fine line when youre in a really good form. … Sometimes that signal hits you in the face after because its a tough sport.Its a tough sport, and four races into the season, Svindal finds himself back on top of the overall standings with 185 points, tied with Switzerlands Daniel Albrecht.
Seconds, anyoneBuechel is no stranger to second place anywhere in Eagle County. During the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships, he took home a silver medal in the giant slalom on International in Vail.Four years later, Buechel was second in the Birds of Prey super-G and was in the same spot Friday, just six-hundredths of a second behind Svindal.Beaver Creek is one of the most difficult courses in the world, Buechel said. It is so steep and you need, as I say, big balls. You need a clean run. You need courage. I love it here. Its very difficult, but its always amazing and I love the crowd.As the oldest athlete on the tour, Buechel, 36, relied on his experience and used the three-day layoff between Tuesdays training and Fridays race to watch video tape of American Bode Millers winning run three days before.Already the oldest skier to win on the World Cup when he took the super-G in Kitzbuehel, Austria, last January, Buechels no stranger to success. But he does wonder how long he will remain on the tour.The plan was when I didnt make a medal at the last Olympics (in 2006), I said to myself, What the heck? I am going for another four years, he said. But now, I dont know. Maybe, its time to retire next spring. I dont know yet. After the season, Ill talk to my wife and think about it for a while, and then well see.Welcome backBy finishing third, Guay made the podium for the first time since the 2006-07 season. It feels amazing. Ive never been on the podium here before (sic). I came close. I was sixth a couple of years ago, the Canadian said. Tough conditions today. It was pretty icy. Aksel had an amazing run. Buechel, I havent seen it yet, but it must have been very good. To be on the podium, Im pretty excited.To refresh Guays mind, he actually did take silver here in 2005 in super-G, but in all fairness, three years can be a long time in ski racing. While he downplayed the significance of the approaching 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, after Tuesdays training run, theres no doubt that the Canadians are getting ready for home snow. Canadian John Kucera was second in the Lake Louise super-G last Sunday and Friday Guay got a view from the high steps.The 2008 Birds of Prey continues today with the super-G at 11 a.m.Extra gatesThe partisan crowd got a scare when Miller crashed on a turn just before Screech Owl. He got up on his own and seemed to avoid major injury. Many racers had difficulty with that turn. … Steven Nyman was the top American, finishing seventh. Austrias Klaus Kroell and Michael Walchhofer took fourth and fifth, respectively, followed by Switzerlands Didier Defago in sixth. Ambrosi Hoffman (Switzerland), Daniel Albrecht (Switzerland) and Andrej Jerman (Slovakia) rounded out the top 10. … While times seemed were slower than training on Tuesday Miller won in 1:42.82 Fridays numbers were favorable to 2006, the last time the downhill was run from the top. Miller won in 1:46.15 that year, compared to Svindals 1:43.85.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or email@example.com.