LAKE LOUISE, Alta. — Aksel Lund Svindal made a triumphant return to World Cup downhill in a place that has been good for his career. The Norwegian won the season-opener Saturday in Lake Louise.
Svindal sat out the World Cup in 2014-15 because of a torn Achilles’ tendon sustained playing soccer a few weeks prior to the season.
The 32-year-old recovered from a mistake on the upper third of the course Saturday to beat Peter Fill of Italy by a hundredth of a second. Travis Gangong of the U.S. finished third. Svindal’s win was the fifth of his career in Lake Louise.
“Lake Louise has always been good to me,” Svindal said. “After being away from the World Cup for a full year, a year and a half really, it’s a good place for me to start.
“That one mistake was a little bit bigger than it should have been and I definitely thought that I lost it there. I just had to nail the bottom part.”
Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was in a similar situation to Svindal as a pair of knee surgeries in 2014 sidelined him last season. He was the top Canadian in 10th.
“I just need a place to start and where I can build from,” Guay said. “More than anything I think this is going to be a great day to put in the bank and learn from.”
A super-G is scheduled for Sunday. Svindal won Olympic gold in it in 2010 and three of his Lake Louise victories are in super-G.
Last winter wasn’t a complete loss for Svindal as he competed in February’s world championships. He finished sixth in downhill and super-G.
But while he was sidelined, Norwegian teammate Kjetil Jansrud claimed the overall World Cup crowns in super-G and downhill. Jansrud kicked off that campaign by sweeping both races in Lake Louise.
He was fastest in a pair of training runs and second behind Svindal in another during the week, but finished ninth Saturday. Jansrud also erred on the upper section of the course, but unlike Svindal wasn’t able to make up time on the bottom.
“I had a good line, but suddenly I hit a little rut and straight into another bump and kind of lost my balance and had to halfway go down to bring it back,” Jansrud explained. “I wasn’t as solid as I’d hoped to be.”
“Our sport, there’s a lot of good guys in it so if you make a mistake, you’re not in the top and that’s the way it should be. Aksel winning, I know we’re good enough and I will be back in the fight tomorrow.”
Guay owns a career 22 World Cup medals and won the world downhill title in 2011. He was inside the top six in all three training runs, but Guay too made a mistake flying off-balance of a jump.
“I put myself in a position with the last three training runs that you always want a little bit more,” he said. “I kind of forgot a little how it is in the start gate. You have this kind of energy adrenaline. I didn’t think I managed that too well.
“I went out there and was aggressive, a lot like Jansrud, tried to take some chances, push those limits and forgot to ski. You have to use your legs, create speed and stay solid.”
Svindal’s time was one minute 47.29 seconds under sunny skies and a temperature of minus-10. Gangong finished almost four-tenths of a second back in third and Guay was .85 behind Svindal.
Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., was 21st and Manny Osborne-Paradis, also of Invermere, was 30th. Osborne-Paradis was second in last year’s downhill and was surprised he wasn’t faster when he crossed the finish line.
“I really thought that run was good,” Osborne-Paradis said. “It wasn’t a winning run, but I thought it was good enough for a top 10. I did exactly what I wanted to do and I was accelerating where I wanted to.”
Calgary’s Tyler Werry placed 36th, Jeff Frisch of Mont-Tremblant was 54th and Broderick Thompson of Whistler, B.C., was 56th.
Calgary’s Jan Hudec withdrew from the downhill because of knee pain, but had not ruled out Sunday’s super-G. The Olympic bronze medallist in super-G in 2014 says it will be a last-second decision.
“I’ll be here in the morning in the start gate,” Hudec said. “I might push forward or I might push back.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press