He didn’t win any medals, but Norway’s downhill racer Aksel Lund Svindal delivered what some commentators were calling a “medical sensation” and a “sensational comeback” when he placed sixth in the men’s Super-G at the World Championships in Beaver Creek. The strong performance came less than four months after he tore his Achilles tendon during training in October.
The good-natured Svindal was mighty pleased himself. “It was just great to see the green light (which meant he was leading) when I crossed the finish line,” Svindal told state broadcaster NRK. “I had no idea how this was going to go.”
Svindal has won multiple World Cup, World Championship and Olympic medals, and is so prominent in his sport that he’s featured in classy ads in international magazines. He hadn’t raced in a single race this season, though, before deciding to try his luck and fortitude at the world championships this week.
“I felt rusty, had a good stretch in the middle of the course, but lost the decisive seconds at the start and at the end,” Svindal said in summing up his race. He was leading and ended up among the best skiers, claiming that gave him “enormous inspiration” before the next big race this weekend, the men’s downhill.
Thursday’s race became one of the most important of his brilliant career, because of its comeback symbolism. Some had worried he was pushing his luck, and that he risked further injury, but the ever-smiling Svindal followed his own instincts. He felt he had recovered well enough and quickly enough to compete again at the highest levels of his sport, and he was right.
“Svindal makes the impossible possible,” wrote sports columnist Ola Bernhus in newspaper Aftenposten. Svindal’, competitors, his coaches and journalists were all wondering how he could ski so fast and so quickly after such a serious injury. Medical follow-up, hard training, strength and routine were part of the answer, but most credited what Bernhus called his “mental strength, which many times has shown itself to be far from usual.”
Svindal’s teammate and rival Kjetil Jansrud had been favoured to win the gold medal, but he hit a gate, injured his shoulder and had what for him was a disappointing run down the mountain. Jansrud finished fourth, just missing a spot on the winners’ podium, where Hannes Reichelt of Austria won gold, Dustin Cook of Canada took silver and Adrien Theaux of France won the bronze medal.