SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — Aksel Lund Svindal’s chronically injured knee felt so terrible after last season that retirement seemed his only option.
But the Olympic downhill champion refused to give in.
Although he didn’t join his Norwegian teammates for summer training, he’s now giving himself “a 50-50 chance” of hitting the slopes again in the new season, which starts Sunday.
“The weeks after (the World Cup Finals in) Are, I decided that I cannot make a decision because that had to be a negative decision,” said the 35-year-old Svindal, a winner of two Olympic and five world titles as well as two overall World Cup championships.
His right knee suffered permanent damage in January 2016, tearing the ACL and meniscus in a spectacular crash in Kitzbuehel. Svindal returned the following season but had to quit it prematurely, having also missed the previous season after tearing an Achilles tendon while playing soccer.
In March 2018, after he completed a full season for the first time in three years and just weeks after racing to gold at the PyeongChang Olympics, his knee looked and felt like it just came out of surgery.
And it didn’t get better for the next two months.
“I could walk, but the knee always hurt,” Svindal said. “I thought, you cannot do summer training and have to take pain killers every day.”
But in June, he was able to start doing some strength training.
“It was pretty stable, and there were days the knee was quite OK,” he said.
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With his career future in serious doubt, Svindal still got the support of his equipment supplier, Head, and the Norwegian ski federation. He wasn’t going to join the likes of Kjetil Jansrud and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde for the usual preparation period, but would work on his own on a reduced schedule.
Otherwise his knee wouldn’t hold up, but there’s also a mental side to it.
“When you train with a group of healthy athletes, you get reminded every single day that you are injured,” Svindal said. “Doing that for the third year in a row, it gets mentally draining.”
If he returns, he will only compete in downhill and super-G races as time is lacking to put in enough giant slalom practice. He plans to compete in all speed races, including at the world championships in Are, Sweden, in February.
“That is Plan A. But there is also a Plan B. And a Plan C,” he said. “Last year I went to the limit, maybe over it. With the Olympics, you want to push a bit more, but I can’t push that much every year. I have to be a bit more careful.”
Svindal’s training usually contains of two or three days of skiing before taking a few days of rest to let the knee recover. But last week, on the Saas-Fee glacier in Switzerland, Svindal stood on skis for seven straight days, something he hadn’t been able doing for the past three years.
“It was quite positive. And if that continues into (next month’s training in) Colorado, chances are good that I can come to Lake Louise like normal,” he said, referring to the first speeds races on Nov. 24-25. “To come there and try to win, that’s where I want to be.”
His belief that he can still win races is what prevented Svindal from calling it a career.
“When you are at the start, and you know Jansrud and (Matthias) Mayer had good runs, but you also know: I am just as good and I can win,” Svindal said, “that adrenalin is still a lot of fun.”
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