Selva Di Val Gardena, Italy (AP) — Aksel Lund Svindal hasn’t felt this good in nearly three years, even though he still has metal support pieces inside his surgically repaired left thumb.
The Norwegian veteran extended his record to seven career victories in Val Gardena on Friday by narrowly edging Italian rival Christof Innerhofer to win a World Cup super-G.
“This is best that I’ve been since that crash in Kitzbuehel,” Svindal said, referring to when his right knee suffered permanent damage in a spectacular fall in the Austrian resort in January 2016.
“Last year I was a little bit stressed because I was not doing very good. I did good in the races (Svindal won gold in the downhill at the Pyeongchang Olympics) but I didn’t feel so good,” he said. “This year it’s just way better than it was last year. To get a full summer where you can do full training without any surgery, the body miraculously heals itself a little bit more.”
Not that there haven’t been more setbacks. Like when Svindal injured his thumb during a recent training crash, forcing him to tape the ski pole to his glove. It means he can’t push of out of the starting gate as much as he would like.
“It’s much better,” Svindal said. “It’s completely stiff because there’s metal in it but it’s not so swollen anymore. So today the start was fine. There will be surgery sometime in January to take out the metal.”
In sub-freezing conditions, Svindal finished 0.05 seconds ahead of Innerhofer and 0.27 in front of Norwegian teammate Kjetil Jansrud.
The 35-year-old Svindal has now won five super-Gs and two downhills on the Saslong course and he can add to his record by defending his downhill title on Saturday.
Svindal recalled how when he first raced in Val Gardena in 2002 his legs were “really, really tired in the downhill.”
“So it’s nice to see the progression through the years that even though I’m an old guy I’m physically better than I was 16 years ago,” he said.
It was Svindal’s first win of the season and the 36th of his World Cup career, tying him with retired Austrian racer Benny Raich for seventh place on the all-time list.
“When I started on the World Cup, Raich was one of the favorites,” Svindal said. “It’s cool.”
The victory moved Svindal to the top of both the overall World Cup standings and the super-G standings.
In the overall, Svindal leads seven-time defending champion Marcel Hirscher by 17 points. Hirscher, a technical specialist who did not enter the race, will be expected to reclaim the lead during a stretch of five giant slalom and slalom events over a seven-day span beginning on Sunday in Alta Badia.
In the super-G standings, Svindal moved 19 points ahead of Jansrud.
Competing in his home region, Innerhofer’s run prompted large cheers but Svindal came down seven racers later and quieted the crowd.
“It was amazing to cross the finish line and see all the people cheering for me,” Innerhofer said. “Without seeing the time I knew i did well. … I’m happy with my second place.”
Svindal trailed Innerhofer by almost a full tenth of a second at the final checkpoint but the big Norwegian found more speed on the steep, finishing turns. With a velocity of 115.3 kph (72 mph), Svindal was significantly faster than Innerhofer at the last speed reading.
Johan Clarey of France posted an impressive fourth-place finish with the No. 50 bib and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde placed fifth to make it three Norwegians in the top five and four in the top 10 with Adrian Smiseth Sejersted eighth.
Olympic super-G champion Matthias Mayer of Austria finished seventh.
American skier Steven Nyman, who was 26th, will be among the favorites in Saturday’s downhill on the Saslong, a race that he has won three times — along with Svindal.