Aksel Lund Svindal

Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal ends career with downhill silver at Worlds

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After an hour-long delay, the men’s downhill kicked off at the World Championships in Are, Sweden with visibility still questionable due to fog and falling snow.

Topping out at around 80 mph, skiers attacked the shortened course despite the inability to see the approaching terrain.

In his career curtain call, Norway’s five-time World Champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Aksel Lund Svindal finished just .02 hundredths of a second behind his countryman Kjetil Jansrud to take home the silver medal.  Austria’s Vincent Kriechmayr completed the podium in third.

Full results are here.

Like the U.S.’ Lindsey Vonn, who has reportedly referred to Svindal as her “life coach,” the Norwegian has decided to call it quits after Are, citing his own list of injuries suffered over two decades of competitive racing. Svindal is also the reigning Olympic downhill champion. Last year in PyeongChang, he became the oldest Alpine skier to win an Olympic gold medal.

For Jansrud, the win in Are is his first World Championship victory. The race was also his first downhill since he broke his hand in training on the downhill course in Kitzbuehel back in January.

“I’ve been sharing the podium with Aksel for quite a few times throughout [our careers], and doing this on his last race, at World Champs is an honor,” Jansrud said after the race. “This is a perfect day.”

The U.S.’ Bryce Bennett, who has repeatedly knocked on the downhill podium door throughout this World Cup season, was the top finisher for the Stars and Stripes, ending the day tied for ninth.

The women’s downhill on Sunday morning at 6:25 a.m. ET is the can’t miss race of the 2019 World Championships, as Vonn, long known as the “Speed Queen,” charges down the slopes in Are for one final run of her career. Vonn was back on her skis on Friday in the downhill portion of the Alpine combined, using the run as training, after her ferocious crash in the Super-G earlier this week.

Vonn will be the third skier out of the gate on Sunday morning in the downhill.

Watch the women’s downhill tomorrow live on TV or streaming on NBCSN, Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold. An encore presentation of the women’s downhill airs on Sunday afternoon on NBC at 3:00 p.m. ET.

World Championship racing continues for the men on Monday with the Alpine Super combined, with the downhill run scheduled for 5:00 a.m. ET and the deciding slalom run set for 8:30 a.m. ET. Watch the downhill live on TV or streaming on Olympic Channel. The slalom run of the event will air live on TV and streaming on NBCSN. Both races are also streaming live with the NBC Sports Gold Snow Pass.

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Vincent Kriechmayr picks up World Cup downhill win

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“Mammas don’t let your babies grow up to be downhillers” was the sentiment offered by NBC Sports’ Steve Porino as the most experienced alpine racers attacked the downhill course in Wengen on Saturday.

Skiers like reigning Olympic downhill champion, Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, in his 18th World Cup season, continue to find ways to will their bodies past pain to compete for the podium. After taking 10 days off to rest an ailing right knee, Svindal, skiing third, looked fresh and took the early lead.

Two skiers later, the reigning world champ and current World Cup points leader in downhill, Swiss skier Beat Feuz, thrilled his home-country crowd by bumping Svindal off the top spot by .38 hundredths of a second.    

But it was Austria’s Vincent Kriechmayr who ultimately mastered the treacherous hairpin turns and narrow snowy chutes in Wengen to win his second-career World Cup downhill race. Kriechmayer was in a dead heat with Feuz as he neared the finish, but commanded his skies into two near-perfect turns to claim the lead by .14 hundredths of a second.

Rounding out the podium behind Kriechmayr and Feuz was Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde in third. Full results are here.

Even the best downhillers in the world struggled to reach the finish line in Wengen. Austria’s Max Franz, second in the downhill World Cup point standings, crashed in his run, as did his countryman two-time Olympic champion Matthias Mayer.

The U.S.’ Steve Nyman gave spectators and fellow skiers a scare when he lost control during his run, going airborne for a moment, before coming to a stop in the middle of the course. Luckily, Nyman avoided becoming entangled in the protective fencing and was able to ski away seemingly unscathed.

Bryce Bennett continued to be the bright spot for the U.S. downhill skiers, finishing his day in fifth, .63 hundredths of a second behind Kriechmayr. Bennett has flirted with downhill podiums as of late, finishing fourth in two previous races this season.

Tomorrow the men’s World Cup wraps up its weekend in Switzerland with the slalom. Stream the first run live on OlympicChannel.com or on NBC Sports Gold starting at 4:15 a.m. EST. Watch the second and deciding run on TV on Olympic Channel or stream it on NBC Sports Gold at 7:15 a.m. ET.

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Aksel Lund Svindal ’50-50′ on Alpine skiing return

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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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