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Axel Lund Svindal dominates 50th anniversary of Val Gardena downhill

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 16, 2017

Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal catches some air on his way to winning a men's World Cup downhill, in Val Gardena, Italy, on Saturday. (Shinichiro Tanaka / Associated Press)
Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal catches some air on his way to winning a men's World Cup downhill, in Val Gardena, Italy, on Saturday. (Shinichiro Tanaka / Associated Press)
By Andrew Dampf Associated Press

SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy– Aksel Lund Svindal knows the recipe for success on the Saslong Classic course, and he wasn’t about to let his latest knee injury slow him down.

It’s no wonder the 34-year-old Norwegian veteran surprised onlookers by skiing wide around the final jump in training earlier this week.

“I made some smart moves in the last training run to save my knee,” said Svindal, who had surgery on his right knee in January. “Today’s race day and it’s different. You get the adrenaline that you don’t get in training.”

Channeling that adrenaline to perfection, Svindal dominated the 50th anniversary edition of the Saslong downhill Saturday, leading a 1-2 finish by a significant margin ahead of teammate Kjetil Jansrud.

“It was a good run. Does it ever get perfect? Probably not, but I must have been good,” Svindal said. “You don’t look for a perfect run. You look for high performance and no mistakes, and today was definitely no mistakes.”

For his record sixth win in Val Gardena – four super-Gs and two downhills – Svindal clocked 1 minute, 57 seconds for a massive 0.59-second advantage over Jansrud.

Max Franz, last year’s winner from Austria, finished third, 0.85 back.

“(The course) is a downhill with a high average speed. There’s no room for mistakes and you need to carry speed all the way and that’s what I did today,” Svindal said.

It was Svindal’s second straight downhill win after a victory in Beaver Creek, Colorado, and the 34th victory overall in his World Cup career. He broke a tie with Bode Miller for eighth place on the list of all-time World Cup winners.

The victory also put Svindal atop the World Cup overall and downhill standings.

Although Svindal has won the overall World Cup title twice, his career has also been marked by a series of major injuries. His latest knee problem in January turned out to be more complex than expected as a meniscus had ripped off the bone and surgeons had to drill a new hole into the femur to reattach it.

Cringing at the thought of additional hard landings on his creaky knees, Svindal fought the urge to flail his arms on the course’s big jumps.

“It’s tough to stay calm in the air and not create more resistance,” he said.

Skiing immediately after his teammate in perfect conditions, Jansrud was faster than Svindal through the first three checkpoints but couldn’t match Svindal on the technical section filled with small bumps.

Gilles Roulin, a 23-year-old Swiss skier, finished fourth with the No. 32 bib for the best result of his career. Last season, Roulin led the overall, downhill and super-G standings in the second-tier Europa Cup circuit.

Christof Innerhofer placed fifth in the best result for the Italian team, which hasn’t won its home downhill since Kristian Ghedina claimed the last of his record four victories in 2001. Teammate Dominik Paris tied for sixth while Peter Fill was 57th after skiing over a rock.

At the finish, Fill slammed one of his skis to the snow in frustration.

“I want to apologize for my behavior,” Fill said later. “I couldn’t contain my anger. I really wanted to do well here. But that’s Val Gardena: Even when you’re in really great form, something else can slow you down.”

Jared Goldberg finished a career-best ninth and teammate Bryce Bennett was 11th for the United States. Three-time winner Steven Nyman, who made his return from a knee injury, tied with teammate Wiley Maple for 41st.

In another strong showing for the rising German team, Manuel Schmid finished 16th in his World Cup debut.

The circuit heads to Alta Badia for a giant slalom and parallel GS on Sunday and Monday, respectively.

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