What Achilles tear? Svindal looking great
BEAVER CREEK — The way Aksel Lund Svindal skied at the World Championships super-G, it was hard to believe that the downhill champ and Olympic medalist had recently been off the snow for three months.
Svindal, who tore his Achilles tendon in October while kicking a soccer ball around, was not expected to return to competition in time for the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, much less post a time in the top 10. He skied to a sixth-place finish in Thursday’s technical super-G, just 13 hundredths of a second short of a podium spot.
According to the Norwegian, he returned to the snow in mid-January and only began doing race training on Jan. 26.
“I’m really happy,” he said after the super-G, where despite a bobble near the beginning of the course, he steadily gained time on the middle and lower sections. “I’m rusty, but I haven’t forgotten everything, obviously. Seeing that green light, I didn’t think I would win because I did too many bad turns, but I was surprised by the green light.”
Despite dealing with an injury that typically takes four-to-six months to return to routine activity, Svindal said his heel wasn’t bothering him at all on the slopes.
“I’m not nervous about it,” he said “I’m more nervous about the course because my timing is off. I go off from the start and think, ‘How do I do this perfectly?’ I don’t really feel it — it works.”
Svindal looked solid and fast on a course that gave many other top contenders trouble. Some turns took casualties that included Bode Miller, who crashed out spectacularly on The Abyss, and Svindal’s teammate Kjetil Jansrud who injured his shoulder hitting a gate.
“I talked to Bode about the course beforehand. We said, for two guys coming back from injury, the 10 first gates there aren’t exactly a smooth start,” said Svindal.
He attributed the fast recovery to a lot of physical therapy, especially to get his ankle moving normally again after six weeks in a cast.
“I think it was a lot of hard work and no bad luck. I don’t necessarily expect good luck, but I hope for no bad luck,” he said. “I’m doing a lot of physio, almost more for the joint more than the Achilles. When you are in a cast, the toe is pointed for 6 weeks and you have to get the joint moving again.”
He added that he wasn’t too surprised that he’s skiing well despite months off the snow.
“Most of it is the fact that I’ve been skiing a lot my whole life. I’m not focusing on the bad parts, like that I haven’t been skiing in the last three months,” he said. “(My heel) is bothering me more walking down to the hotel than it is skiing. But that could have something to do with the adrenaline you get when you race.”
Still, others are shocked to see Svindal back in the gate so soon. American downhiller Steven Nyman also ruptured his Achilles in 2011 during training and said he was very surprised to see Svindal racing.
“For him to be back right now is kind of unbelievable,” he said. “In your calf, you lose muscle mass faster than any other muscle in the body. I felt like I was skiing on one and a half legs a year and a half later.”
However, Nyman added that his injury was more severe and extensive than Svindal’s.
Still, Svindal refused to speculate on how he might do in the weekend’s upcoming downhill race.
“My expectation coming in was to do a training run and then just see. I did the downhill training run, and I didn’t do great, but I felt safe at least. Today I figured there’s nothing to lose,” he said, adding that he was not too far behind the fastest racers on Thursday. “I’m a little surprised, I have to say. It was a lot of fun.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.