On the biggest day of the skiing season, Aksel Lund Svindal was far ahead of all of his rivals in every aspect — technically, physically and tactically.
Mastering a bumpy and icy course made more difficult by a light snowfall and low visibility, Svindal won the downhill at the world championships by a huge margin on Saturday.
Other contenders ran into trouble on the 3.3km Planai course, especially on the steep, final pitch, where skiers had to dig their edges in hardest just when their legs began to weaken.
“The game plan was to be pushing all the way down to the last pitch, then be tactical at two gates there, then push hard again,” Svindal said. “It’s never perfect, but I had a very good run. When I came down and I was fast, I was happy because I definitely didn’t want to go up and do it again because I didn’t have any more [energy].”
Svindal clocked 2 minutes, 1.32 seconds to win by nearly half a second and secure his second world title in skiing’s signature event, having also won in Are, Sweden, in 2007.
Dominik Paris of Italy, who leads the World Cup downhill standings by three points ahead of Svindal, took the silver medal, 0.46 seconds behind, and David Poisson of France was a surprise third, 0.97 seconds back.
Already a two-time overall champion, Svindal is having another standout World Cup season with four victories, but he started these championships with a disappointing bronze in a super-G that saw his teammate Kjetil Jansrud of Norway ruled out for up to nine months after injuring his left knee.
“For super-G, I was the big favorite that everyone was talking about, and in skiing you can’t just show up and get your medal. There’s just too much stuff you can’t control,” Svindal said. “Even though it was not a bad day, it was also mixed emotions with my one and only teammate getting injured and out for the season. I was really motivated to have a good race today. Crossing the finish in the world championships and leading by a second is a really good feeling.”
Svindal came down immediately before Paris and celebrated, turning to all corners of the finish area to take in the entire crowd — and to let all the photographers capture the moment.
While Svindal was counting his 11th medal at major championships, others were struggling just to finish.
Defending champion Erik Guay of Canada made one big error midway down, then appeared out of energy at the bottom, skiing off course two gates from the end, and getting disqualified when he went back onto the track and crossed the finish line.
“I was in my transition, the ski hooked and that was the end of it,” Guay said. “I was on my side. It’s as quick as a blink of an eye sometimes.”
“It was a tough race and I think that’s what we want to see at world championships, those tough, challenging kind of conditions,” Guay added, before paying tribute to Svindal. “It’s not a lucky win, it’s a smart, intelligent win. The guy that’s supposed to win, does.”
Hannes Reichelt of Austria, another pre-race favorite, had a scary landing of a jump that left his skis pointing straight up in the air, making it look almost as if he were on stilts for a moment. When he did get both skis back on the ground, he went off course.
The top Austrian finisher was Klaus Kroell, who was fourth, 1.35 seconds back, dampening the mood in the crowd of 36,000.
“I think we all agree the course here was actually tougher than we thought — it was faster, bumpier, icier and it wasn’t as smooth as we expected,” Svindal said. “You have to fight for every hundredth of a second. We thought it could be a close race. It wasn’t in the end.”