Tributes have been pouring in since Norway’s popular downhill racer Aksel Lund Svindal finally announced his looming retirement last week. There was no doubt at all that Svindal will be missed and warmly remembered.
At an age of 36, and after some spectacular spills and injuries in recent years, the retirement issue has been lurking in the background all season. He had remarked even before the season began that “at some point, you have to be sensible,” but then the racing got underway and soon he was winning again. By mid-December he had soared down the slopes to capture his 35th World Cup victory.
And there he was, flashing his friendly smile and giving teammates much of the credit. The experienced veteran was still proud to be part of the “Attacking Vikings,” and gamely going along with all the appearances expected by sponsors.
“It’s fun to be on tour,” he told state broadcaster NRK after winning the Super-G in Val Gardena. And when asked about his own triumph, not least since making another spectacular comeback from injury and having doubts about a knee, he still pointed to teammates that day. “There are four of us (Norwegians) among the seven best,” Svindal said. “Almost like in cross-country skiing.”
Inclusive, supportive, helpful, humble. Those are all words bandied about often when sports commentators write about Svindal and teammates talk about him.
“He has been one of the best downhill racers of all time,” fellow skier Beat Feuz told newspaper Aftenposten right after Svindal announced that he’d retire after skiing in World Championships at Åre next month. “It will be sad when he leaves the ski slopes, but he can look back on a very, very good career.”
Alexander Aamodt Kilde of the Norwegian team also said it will be “sad to lose such a role model” as Svindal. “Aksel has delivered the goods for years, he’s a huge star in my eyes,” Kilde told Aftenposten. “He’s just top-notch in absolutely all areas.”
Svindal said he’ll now be concentrating on the championships at Åre, “that will be my last competition at the top level,” Svindal said. He wasn’t quite sure what will happen after that, “but I feel like I have plenty of time to figure that out,” he told news bureau NTB. “There’s nothing that demands a quick decision.” He’s already proven himself to be a successful businessman and investor, working closely with his father in a number of ventures from high tech to videoconferencing.
Asked whether he thinks he’s good for more gold in Åre, he said “yes, I am.” Asked whether he’d promise Norwegians a really grand finale, he said: “I can’t promise that, but I can promise to make a very honest attempt.”