Aksel Lund Svindal

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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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Aksel Lund Svindal wins first race in nearly 2 years (video)

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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.

Full results are here.

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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Aksel Lund Svindal finds speed with knee on the mend

Aksel Lund Svindal
AP
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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — Aksel Lund Svindal serves on the board of four technology startup companies. Where he’s truly chairman, though, is on the race hill.

Even at 34 and coming off another knee surgery, the Norwegian standout remains a racer the skiers are watching closely with the Olympics drawing near.

His resume reads like this: Five world championships, two World Cup overall crowns and an Olympic medal of every color from 2010.

“He’s old, he’s just coming back,” American downhiller Steven Nyman cracked, “but he’s strong. … The guy’s just feisty.”

These days, Svindal is spinning his wheels for the sake of expedited healing. He will ski hard one day, and then jump on a bike the next just to limit the swelling in his knee.

That routine keeps him hammering on the slope, no matter how painful it may be on occasion.

“Being older and coming back from multiple injuries, I think you do” have to be smarter, said Svindal, who will be one of the favorites in a World Cup super-G race Friday at the Birds of Prey (NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app, 12:30 p.m. ET). “It’s hurting and gets swollen every once in a while. But it’s better than last year. I just have to be happy with progress.”

Svindal has been hit hard by injuries over the last few seasons — a torn Achilles while juggling the soccer ball in October 2014. An ACL tear in January 2016.

Then last January, a knee injury that turned out to much more complex than expected. He said the meniscus was ripped off and the surgeons had to drill a new hole into the femur to reattach it.

“It was like bone on bone,” Svindal said. “It was good to get that fixed again.”

Getting back up to speed has become a familiar part of the offseason for Svindal. Not by choice, obviously.

“I’ve gotten as used to it as you possibly can be if you’re a racer,” said Svindal, who finished 12th in a downhill training session Thursday, 1.6 seconds behind leader Matthias Mayer of Austria. “You can never get used to it. You at least can’t worry about it.”

His competitors think he looks as good as new (“He’s super good,” American Bryce Bennett said). His teammates believe that, too, with training partners Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and Kjetil Jansrud having a front-row seat to his recovery.

“He’s always had a way of skiing and a way of handling things that are unique,” said Jansrud, who won the super-G in Lake Louise last weekend. “He’s been winning so much that he knows what it takes. That’s what separates a champion from not a champion.”

This certainly gave Svindal a dose of confidence: Finishing third in the downhill and fifth in the super-G at Lake Louise. It showed he’s on the right path.

Now, he’s back at Beaver Creek, a course that always suits his style of skiing. He’s captured three World Cup downhill races at this venue, along with a super-G and super-combined event.

It’s also the site of a haunting crash. Svindal broke his nose and cheekbone in a 2007 wipeout along the Birds of Prey 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.

“I’ve been pretty good here in the past,” said Svindal, who turns 35 on Dec. 26.

Just don’t ask him about PyeongChang. Still too early.

“Pretty focused on what’s going to happen this week,” Svindal said.

In his downtime — and especially when he’s sidelined by injury — Svindal likes to do some investing.

More specifically, jump on board of startup companies that are small and “where you can get a seat on the board and learn about the business,” he said. “There are like these serial entrepreneurs who keep doing things because they’re smart. I try to tag with them if I can.”

Svindal treats working with a company much like competing in a race.

“You have to be on it,” Svindal said, “if you want to be successful.”

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