Svindal injured in downhill training |

Svindal injured in downhill training

Aksel Svindal from Norway is loaded into an ambulance Monday after crashing on the Birds Of Prey course on the first day of training at Beaver Creek. Svindal is ranked No. 1 in World cup ski racing. (Dominique Taylor / Vail Daily)

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. ” Usually, by the time the week’s races are done, the winner of a training run is the answer to a trivia question. The answer Tuesday was Switzerland’s Didier Cuche on the first day of downhill training Tuesday on Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek.

It became an even more inconsequential development after defending overall World Cup champion Aksel Lund Svindal crashed off the Golden Eagle Jump and into The Abyss.

He broke his nose and cheek bones in three different places as well as making a cut deep into his upper left leg with his own ski during the crash. Lund was taken off the course by ambulance and went to the Vail Valley Medical Center.

Norwegian men’s alpine head coach Marius Arnesen said at the Captains’ Meeting Tuesday evening after the training that there was no timetable for Svindal’s return in the near future. Svindal, the Birds of Prey’s defending super-combined champion, will not race at Beaver Creek this year.

“That’s not the interest right now,” Arnesen said. “The only thing is that he gets healthy. We still don’t know how deep the (leg) injury is. We are focusing on that he gets all the best medical treatment, that he is getting healthy. For sure, he is not racing here and I think it will take some time before he is ready.”

Svindal crashed on a particularly difficult portion of the Birds of Prey course. Before word of the severity of Svindal’s injury reached the racers, they were talking about Golden Eagle and The Abyss.

“The big problem I see is after Golden Eagle, the compression,” Cuche (1 minute, 42.76 seconds) said presciently. He ran two spots before Svindal. “It’s really short. It’s pressing really hard down. Five meters later, you just jump out of the compression. That could be really be dangerous (if) you make a mistake there.”

With the course made virtually entirely from man-made snow, the best in the world were expecting a fast track. Even on a day when merely getting a feel for things ” and not speed ” was the goal, the swift nature of the course and the length of the jumps were the topics of discussion in the finish area.

“Today, Golden Eagle was pretty fun. I went off the jump and didn’t expect it to be that big,” said American Steven Nyman, who finished second behind Cuche in 1:42.97. “I was soaring. All the boys were soaring and it is a lot bigger than it has ever been. I wasn’t even pushing it. I made a good press and I was in the air and like, ‘Holy crap. I’m flying.'”

Or as Canadian Erik Guay joked, “That’s why they call us Air Canada, but that’s part of the thrill of this course.”

Another sticky ” or not so sticky ” part of the course was The Flyway. Traditionally, the top of the course has been an area where bigger downhillers can pick speed and get into a tuck before The Brink, where Birds of Prey seemingly falls off the face of the earth.

Not on Tuesday.

“Definitely the first couple gates at the top are so icy,” said Canadian Jan Hudec, who won last weekend’s downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta. “It’s like a skating rink. I don’t know how anyone was getting an edge up there. I was slipping all over the place.”

“It’s very fast here,” Austrian Michael Walchhofer (fifth, 1:43.60) said. “The first turns are very icy and thin. It’s smooth. You need a lot of feeling on skis. It’s going fast. The jumps are good. I think I have to risk also on the race day.”

While one can debate whether training-run results are a portent, the top 10 Tuesday had some names which figure prominently in the 10 years of racing at Birds of Prey.

Cuche took second in the downhill last year here and won the super-G in 2002.

Nyman placed third here in 2006, and used that showing to spring his way to a win at Val Gardenia, Italy, later in the season.

In third with a time of 1:43.05, Liechtenstein’s Marco Buechel won silver in super-G in 2002 at Beaver Creek. He also has a giant-slalom second, for good measure, in Vail during the 1999 World Alpine Skiing Championships.

Lurking behind Switzerland’s Ambrosi Hoffman (fourth, 1:43.50) and Walchhofer was none other than Hermann Maier in sixth (1:43.70). While the Herminator hasn’t won here since 2003, he won seven-straight starts at Beaver Creek from 1997-2000 and has 17 top-10 finishes in his last 19 starts on this snow.

“I think it’s more Hermann’s living room than the U.S. guys’,” teammate Walchhofer joked.

In addition to a good run Tuesday, Maier was pleased with his new Head skis after using Atomics for years.

“It looks good. The last two or three years, I had some problems here in the downhill, but before, it was perfect,” Maier said. “Hopefully, I can make the same results as four years ago. I will see. It’s not easy. You have to forget the last three years and concentrate on a new race now.”

The defending Birds of Prey downhill champion, Bode Miller, was ninth in 1:44.00.

Aside from the stunning news of Svindal’s injury, the other big announcement out of the Captains’ Meeting Tuesday night was that race officials expected 4-7 inches of snow to fall between midnight and Wednesday morning.

While that may help local ski resorts open more terrain much to the delight of locals, its could cause problems for today’s downhill training, set for 12:15 p.m.

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