Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal put a punctuation mark on his return to racing Saturday with a downhill win in the Birds of Prey Audi FIS World Cup race week at Beaver Creek. Rounding out the podium were Beat Feuz of Switzerland in second and Thomas Dressen of Germany in third.
Wearing the No. 1 bib, Svindal was first out of the start gate, posted his time of 1:40.46, and then waited for the next 70 racers to finish before officially winning his fourth downhill title at Birds of Prey. Feuz, who won last week’s downhill in Lake Louise, Canada, also took advantage of his early start (bib No. 3) and finished with a time of 1:40.61 to grab his third second-place finish in downhill at Beaver Creek. Dressen posted a time of 1:40.95 to earn his first career World Cup podium and the first in downhill for Germany since 2004.
“I haven’t won a race in a while, actually, so it was nice to feel the excitement of being in the leader box again,” said Svindal, who won the Birds of Prey downhill in 2015 and became just the second man to claim back-to-back World Cup downhill wins at Beaver Creek since Hermann Maier’s win in 1999 and 2000. “I do like it [here]. Ever since I came here the first time, I think it’s one of my favorite stops on the World Cup tour and I’ve had a lot of success.”
It was his fourth downhill win at Beaver Creek and his 13th World Cup downhill title. The victory also marked Svindal’s first World Cup win since Jan. 22, 2016, when he captured the Super G at Kitzbuehel, Austria, and his first World Cup downhill win since Jan. 16, 2016, in Wengen, Switzerland. Svindal sat out most of last season after surgery in January to repair a detached meniscus. It was an unexpected blow for the Norwegian, who also had knee surgery in January 2016 after he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee during a race in Kitzbuehel.
The Norwegian, who purposely chose bib No. 1 for Saturday, noted his confidence going into the race helped dictate his bib choice. Explained Svindal, “Start No. 1, there was not a real disadvantage to it. The only disadvantage is that you don’t get a course report, but I didn’t really think my plan would change much after what I’ve seen in video and in training. I was just going to go with what I thought would be the fastest and it worked out well.”
Svindal noted one key to his clean run was his ability to ski a shorter line through the course’s mid-section, but what might have given him the edge was his skate skiing out of the start gate. “With [going] No. 1, I just wanted to have that attacking attitude right away,” he said. “I just wanted to have that body language. I thought it was something that could make me feel even better if I could just do a few more skates than I thought I would. It felt like it was more of a psychological play than gaining a time advantage.”
It was enough to keep reigning World Championships gold medalist Feuz at bay by +0.15. The Swiss won bronze in downhill at the 2015 Worlds in Beaver Creek and finished second at Birds of Prey in 2014 and 2011.
“I’m really happy with the start of my season. With the win in Lake Louise last week and now a second here in Beaver Creek, it’s fantastic for me,” said Feuz. “I really like Beaver Creek, especially the snow conditions here.”
It was a particularly special day for Dressen, whose best World Cup finish to prior to Saturday was a sixth place in downhill in February 2017 in Kvitfjell, Norway. He finished 10th in Friday’s Super G.
“It’s just an awesome feeling,” he said. “It’s just great. To make to my first podium in the U.S. and also here at the Birds of Prey is special to me … I wasn’t prepared for such a good result.
“Right now I’m a bit speechless because I never thought this race could go so well for me, but I knew from the training runs and from training itself that I am not slow at the moment, but to be so fast – I didn’t think about it.”
Getting the podium at Beaver Creek was especially meaningful to Dressen. “To me it’s very important because to be honest, it’s one of the best races in the whole season,” he said. “Not just because it’s happening in the U.S., but because of the characteristics of the course. It has everything in it that a great downhill course needs. It has flat parts, rollers, big jumps, and that’s what makes a good downhill run. It’s a lot of fun to ski also. Kitzbuehel, for example, is just a fight from the top to the finish, and right here it’s really a lot of fun to ski it.”
Looking to Sunday’s giant slalom, although 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Svindal will sit out to rest his knee, last year’s crystal globe winner, Marcel Hirscher, will be aiming for his third giant slalom win at Beaver Creek. Hirscher is the reigning World Championships gold medalist and has 22 World Cup giant slalom wins. He boasts six other podiums in giant slalom at Beaver Creek.
Also returning to action tomorrow is American Ted Ligety, winner of five giant slalom crystal globes. Ligety, who is making just his third World Cup start since back surgery this past January, won the giant slalom title at the 2015 World Championships at Beaver Creek as well as five consecutive World Cup giant slalom wins at Birds of Prey from 2010-2014.
Prior to the race, American downhill greats Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller were surprised by race organizers who announced two sections of the Birds of Prey course would now be named in their honor. The upper stretch between Peregrine Jump and Goshawk Jump is now known as “Rahlves’ Roll,” while the terrain near the bottom between Golden Eagle and Harrier jumps is now known as “Miller’s Revenge.”
“This race has meant so much to me over the years,” said Rahlves. “We came here, and we owned it and loved it, and it’s just nice to come out here and watch a perfect race day go down.”
Words by Lisa Antonucci