BEAVER CREEK — As usual, Aksel Lund Svindal was super fast on this hill.
And it didn’t matter that organizers had altered the layout. The Norwegian star still navigated it to near perfection, even with falling snow, freezing temperatures and low visibility.
Oh, yeah, he’s also getting over a sinus infection.
“He’s the king,” Hannes Reichelt of Austria said.
Here, Svindal definitely wears the crown.
Svindal flew through the hybrid course — one that was hard to see through the low-lying clouds — to capture a World Cup downhill Friday. Svindal finished in 1 minute, 44.50 seconds, beating Reichelt by 0.17 seconds. Peter Fill of Italy was third.
Bode Miller finished a solid 13th, rounding back into form after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
This was Svindal’s his fourth career win at this venue. No wonder he holds Beaver Creek in such high regard, even if it is the site of one of his most horrific crashes.
In 2007, Svindal lost control over a jump and landed on his backside, sliding into a fence. During the fall, one of his razor-sharp skis went over him, leaving a 6-inch laceration of his left buttock. The cut so concerned doctors they went into his stomach to make sure everything internally was still intact.
A distant memory, he said.
He holds no animosity toward a venue that’s otherwise treated him so well. Of his 52 career podium finishes, 11 have taken place at Beaver Creek.
“The crazy thing is I don’t really have bad memories, even from the year I crashed and spent two weeks in the hospital,” Svindal said. “It’s a good place to be in the hospital. There are super good doctors.”
Reichelt thought he turned in a good run in deteriorating conditions, maybe a winning run. Six skiers later, Svindal powered out of the starting gate, gaining ground on Reichelt at every interval. When Svindal finished and saw his time, he pumped his poles in the air in exultation.
No one was going to catch him. This is his course, no matter how they lay it out.
Usually, this is a familiar downhill course for the racers. Only this season, it was a hybrid path that featured part of the new women’s downhill before switching over to the more traditional men’s setting.
“I like the old course better, I have to be honest,” Svindal said. “This is a good course. But the old course is one of the best courses in the world.
“I just decided to get after it. No one is going to ski this perfect in these conditions. So if you can’t ski it perfect, you have to ski it aggressively.”
miller feeling good
That was Miller’s approach, too. He showed flashes of his old form, the one that won him many races before sitting out last season with a surgically repaired knee. With Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” blaring over the loudspeaker, Miller charged full speed ahead, his arms flailing in places and one of his skis lifting into the air at one point.
Miller, of Franconia, N.H., wound up 1.04 seconds behind Svindal.
That hardly mattered to him. In this race, Miller actually felt really good on skis. He was enjoying it.
“Even though the course is pretty basic and not that challenging in a way, I was fun today,” Miller said. “I knew I had a bunch of intensity, so I tried to ski dynamic.”
He thinks his equipment and the weather held him back more than anything, not his knee.
“I thought I skied pretty well,” said Miller, who scooped up his young daughter and hugged his wife after finishing. “Even though it’s not a great result, I’m happy with it. I skied the way I needed to ski.
“I think the races have not been a good representation of where my skiing was at. In training, I was winning runs against everyone, Aksel and the Canadians and everybody. This is a closer result to how I ski. If we had the best skis out there or we got a little luckier, I think we could’ve been in the lead.”
Travis Ganong had a solid run for the U.S., finishing 15th, while Canadian Erik Guay, who had the top time in training, wound up 16th.
For Reichelt, this was a step toward making a deep Austrian team for the Sochi Games.
Hardly anything to worry about for Svindal, who’s a virtual lock to make Sochi for his country. Svindal had quite a performance at the Vancouver Games four years ago, winning the super-G, taking second in the downhill and third in the giant slalom.
“Just so fast,” Reichelt said of Svindal, shaking his head in admiration.