Norway’s Svindal wins downhill at Birds of Prey | AspenTimes.com

Norway’s Svindal wins downhill at Birds of Prey

Pat Graham
Pat Graham
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

Aksel Lund Svindal, of Norway, skis in the downhill during the men's World Cup ski race at Beaver Creek, Colo., on Friday, Dec, 5, 2008. Svindal placed first in the race. (AP Photo/Nathan Bilow)

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. ” Aksel Lund Svindal had nerves. A belly full of them.

Wary of the slope where he had a serious spill, the Norwegian used fear to fuel himself down the mountain Friday in winning a World Cup downhill a year after the crash ended his season.

Svindal careened down the Birds of Prey course like his old self and finished in 1 minute, 43.85 seconds. Marco Buechel of Liechtenstein was second, .06 seconds behind, and Canada’s Erik Guay was third.

“I knew I was going to be nervous so I figured there’s no point in acting tough and pretending you’re not nervous,” Svindal said. “If you admit it, then you can work on it. That’s a better strategy than pretending like you’re Superman because none of us really are.”

The Americans had trouble on the fast course. Bode Miller wiped out after clipping his left ski on a gate, Marco Sullivan wound up too wide on a turn burning by a gate and Andrew Weibrecht flew into the air before becoming ensnared in protective fencing. He suffered only a bloody nose.

Steven Nyman turned in the top U.S. finish, seventh. It breaks a string of five straight podium finishes by the Americans in the downhill at this event.

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Friday’s race was a psychological test for Svindal, who broke his nose and cheekbone in last year’s training run. He may have fractured a few ribs as well, but he’s not completely sure about that, and didn’t want to ask.

The 6-inch laceration on his left buttock, though, had doctors so concerned they went into his stomach to make sure everything internally was still intact.

“Everything was good so they put the stuff back in there and closed it up,” he said, smiling.

He spent two weeks healing in a Vail hospital, a ski slope visible from his window. That only served as motivation. Three months after the accident, Svindal was back on skis, lightly cruising down the slopes.

Now, he’s a World Cup winner again.

“Today he was able to throw down and attack like he did in the past, like he did last year before his injury,” Guay said.

Marco Sullivan said the course was in great shape despite more than a foot of snow Thursday that forced cancellation of the super combined. That race was rescheduled for next Friday at Val d’Isere, France.

Although the snow was in prime condition, the Americans were not.

Miller was low coming into a corner and then scraped the gate, sending him sprawling. He took a few moments to collect himself before popping up and skiing a little ways down, then angling off the course.

Sullivan, the very next skier, said the gate simply came upon him before he knew it on a super-quick section of the course. That proved disappointing, no doubt, to the legion of Sullivan fans on hand, who were holding signs and wearing “Marco Rocks” stocking caps.

“Bummer,” he said. “Bode and I went up the chair together, both so amped up. Maybe we didn’t nail the line we wanted to?”

Buechel, however, nailed his run, skiing it just the way he envisioned.

“I watched a lot of video after the first training (run). I looked at Bode’s video and I knew how to ski it in my head,” he said. “It’s burned in there how to ski it. … I was all psyched because I pulled it off.”

The 37-year-old Buechel is now contemplating staying around skiing awhile longer, maybe even for the Olympics in Vancouver in 2010.

“This morning I would have said I’ll be done next spring, but after this podium, what the heck?” Buechel said. “It’s like the wine ” the older (I) get, the faster I get. But suddenly you’ve got to watch out ” you don’t turn into vinegar.”

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