UPDATED: Aksel Lund Svindal, Norway’s popular and highly respected downhill racer, suffered a dramatic fall at the World Cup in Kitzbühel on Saturday that literally sent him flying into an aerial somersault before crashing into the mountain on his side and then being flung into the fences along the course. Gasps of anguish among spectators turned into cheers of relief when the ever-positive Svindal eventually managed to stand and even wave his ski pole, as if to reassure those watching. Later came news, however, that he badly injured his knee and his brilliant season was over.
Svindal had been leading World Cup competition after making a remarkable comeback from injury earlier this season. He was among several professional skiers who fell badly in the same swing on the steep and difficult race course at Kitzbühel. Two other skiers had to be picked up by helicopter and rushed to hospital.
Svindal had also taken a fall on Friday, and admitted to being stiff with a muscle strain, but he gamely raced again, with a much more shocking conclusion.
Even though he initially walked off the course, he clearly was in pain, was taken down the mountain on a snowmobile and later flown to hospital in Innsbruck. “It wasn’t exactly fun to watch this happen,” Claus Ryste, sports chief for the Norwegian men’s ski team, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “He’s at the hospital now. There they can take an MRI of his right knee.”
Ryste initially said it could be one of several types of injuries, and was “difficult to say,” but doctors later reported that he’d torn a ligament and would have to be out of action for the rest of the ski season. He was immediately taken in for surgery.
See video of Svindal’s fall, the shock of spectators and his triumphant rise here (external link to NRK, in Norwegian).
Christian Mitter, head of Norway’s national ski team, confirmed that Svindal’s injury involves the same leg on which he tore his Achilles tendon in late 2014, an injury that ruined most of last year’s racing season but ended with a brilliant recovery that led to this year’s spectacular comeback. Svindal had won a string of races until Saturday’s accident.
Mitter noted that Svindal was in good and familiar hands at the hospital in Innsbruck: “It’s the same doctor who operated on his Achilles who’s conducting the examination today. Aksel knows him well and he knows us well.”
Svindal was hurled several meters up in the air by during Saturday’s fall and did a full 360-degree somersault before landing on his leftside at high speed. When shown in slow motion, expert commentators noted that Svindal appeared to remain calm and brace himself in the best possible way to absorb the impact.
The men’s downhill race was ultimately won by Peter Fill of Italy, just ahead of Beat Feu of Switzerland. Carlo Janko, also of Switzerland, was third. Norway’s two other racers, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, placed sixth and Kjetil Jansrud, who’s shared podium victories with Svindal earlier this season, was 14th.