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Aksel Lund Svindal starts No. 1, wins World Cup downhill

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 2, 2017

Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal reacts after finishing a men’s World Cup downhill ski race Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Beaver Creek, Colo. (John Locher / Associated Press)
Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal reacts after finishing a men’s World Cup downhill ski race Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Beaver Creek, Colo. (John Locher / Associated Press)
By Pat Graham Associated Press

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – Being the first racer out of the gate meant no course report or final helpful hints for Aksel Lund Svindal.

Didn’t matter. Very few know this course better than the hard-charging Norwegian.

Svindal put down such a blistering opening run that no one could catch him as he captured a World Cup downhill race Saturday. It was his sixth win on the challenging Birds of Prey course.

“Every once in a while I can put down a good run,” Svindal cracked.

The 34-year-old Svindal elected to have his coaches pick the No. 1 spot at the captains’ meeting the night before, believing the snow conditions might be a little more favorable by running early.

“It was a calculated risk,” Svindal said. “But not a huge risk.”

He finished in a time of 1 minute, 40.46 seconds to beat Switzerland’s Beat Feuz by 0.15 seconds. Thomas Dressen was third to give Germany its first World Cup men’s downhill podium spot since 2004.

Svindal sat in the leader’s box as racer after racer couldn’t match his line. He knew he had a good run but wasn’t sure if it was a winning one. Especially after Austria’s Max Franz, the second skier on the course, had a faster split at the top. Svindal thought he might have left an opening for someone.

“That’s the only problem with No. 1,” Svindal said. “Sometimes the flat sections get faster once they’re skied more and more.”

Not on this day. Not on this sun-splashed course.

“Aksel hammered it, did his thing and showed yet again how fast he can be,” teammate Kjetil Jansrud said.

Svindal has been working his way back from knee surgery since January. This provides even more proof he is heading in the right direction.

Not that anyone on the circuit wanted to hear that. Svindal has been limited in his training the last few years due to knee injuries – along with a torn Achilles tendon in 2014 – but always manages to rebound.

“He’s phenomenal. I don’t understand how he’s doing this stuff – with less training and everything,” Dressen said. “He must have such a good feeling for his skis. He’s just a race horse. I don’t know how he’s doing it. I need to ask him about it.”

Sorry, top secret.

Really, though, it’s all about Svindal’s miles on skis. He’s had so many training runs over his career that he relies on experience. That particularly applies to Beaver Creek, where he always seems to be speedy and in the running.

This place is also the site of a haunting crash. Svindal broke his nose and cheekbone in a 2007 wipeout along the course when he lost control on a jump and landed in the safety netting. He also suffered a laceration to his abdominal area.

He returned to Beaver Creek the next season and won the downhill and super-G races.

Svindal won’t race in the giant slalom on Sunday to save wear on his knees.

“I can only ski a certain amount of days and a certain amount of runs,” Svindal said. “When the other guys go giant slalom training, I’m sitting on the spinning bike.”

It’s all part of the grand plan to keep him healthy for the Pyeongchang Olympics, where he will be one of the favorites.

“Svindal is every time the man to beat,” said Italian racer Christof Innerhofer, who started 27th and roared to fourth place. “He’s the best.”

It was another difficult day for the Americans, with no racers finishing in the top 20. One of their top downhillers, Steven Nyman, only foreran the course with his balky knee still healing.

“This is a big topic right now,” said Bryce Bennett, who led the U.S. with a 21st-place finish. “I know our coaches are pretty involved with it and like, `Where are the results?’ … I think everyone is capable of speed. I’m not really worried about it. Seems like a lot of people are. Once someone puts one down, it’s going to be game on.”

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