Aksel Lund Svindal returned from a career-threatening injury to win in Beaver Creek. It’s a familiar script.
Svindal, who bagged a medal of every color at the 2010 Olympics, captured the Birds of Prey World Cup downhill in Beaver Creek, Colo., by .15 of a second on Saturday.
It’s his 33rd World Cup victory but the first since Jan. 22, 2016, one day before he tore his right ACL in a spectacular crash at the famed Hahnenkammm downhill in Kitzbuehel, Austria (video here).
“I’ve had two knee surgeries, so that’s a lot of rehab,” Svindal said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “Just patience, I guess. Looking forward to moments like this. … Comeback was kind of a no-brainer. I really wanted it. When it works out like this, it’s perfect.”
Austrian Beat Feuz was second on Saturday, followed by Thomas Dressen, the first German man to make a World Cup downhill podium in nearly 13 years.
The U.S. failed to put a man in the top 15 of a seventh straight World Cup race, its longest drought since 2000. Bryce Bennett was 21st.
Svindal, who turns 35 on Dec. 26, suffered his most harrowing crash at Beaver Creek a decade ago (video here). The result: facial fractures, an eight-inch deep laceration caused by his ski and several missing teeth. A four-hour, emergency medical procedure involved opening him up further to ensure his internal organs had not become infected.
Svindal spent two weeks in a Vail hospital and lost 30 pounds of muscle mass in a five-month recovery period.
“If I was going to crash anywhere, then I think this would be the best place in the world to do it,” Svindal joked Saturday. “Best hospital I’ve ever been to.”
Svindal returned to Beaver Creek the following fall and won both the Birds of Prey downhill and super-G en route to his second World Cup overall title.
“I’ve been here before, so I felt pretty confident,” Svindal said Saturday. “It worked out.”
Svindal has struggled staying healthy since early 2014. He went medal-less in Sochi while slowed by allergies and fatigue.
The Norwegian then missed most of the 2014-15 season after rupturing an Achilles tendon playing soccer eight days before the World Cup opener.
Then came that Kitzbuehel spill, which also caused meniscus and cartilage damage.
Svindal raced just four times last season (making three podiums) before calling it off due to persistent right knee pain that required more surgery.
Svindal showed his mettle upon return this season, finishing third in his debut in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend. He’s a bona fide Olympic medal favorite in the downhill and a super-G contender.
The World Cup season continues in Beaver Creek with a giant slalom Sunday featuring Olympic champion Ted Ligety (Olympic Channel, 2:30 p.m. ET).
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