Well, if it’s not one Attacking Viking, it’s another. 24-hours after Norwegian great, Aksel Lund Svindal, captured his 36th career World Cup victory in Val Gardena, Italy, his young teammate, 26-year-old Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, got in on a piece of the action himself and took the win in commanding fashion in Saturday’s downhill. In total, the Norwegian trio of Svindal, Kilde, and Kjetil Jansrud have combined to either win the downhill or super-G in Val Gardena every year since 2012. Kilde earned his first career World Cup podium in the Val Gardena super-G in 2015, finishing third in a historic Norwegian sweep of the podium.
Friday’s good weather continued into Saturday and although the track was almost entirely cast in shadow, racing was fast and fair throughout the 62-man field. Val Gardena’s Saslong track is notorious for its abundance of terrain, constantly looking to knock racers off of their lines, with time able to be made or lost on nearly every section of the course.
Kilde clearly knew something the rest of the field did not, however, as he crushed his competition at each interval and took the commanding win by nearly a full second over second-place finisher, Austria’s Max Franz, who clocked in 0.86 seconds back. Switzerland’s Beat Feuz finished in third, 0.92 seconds behind Kilde. The Norwegian’s last World Cup win came way back on February 27, 2016, when he was victorious in the super-G in Hinterstoder, Austria.
The race was halted for a considerable amount of time after Swiss racer, Marc Gisin, crashed incredibly hard onto his head and back on the Camel Jumps and looked to be unconscious as he was airlifted off the course and transported to the hospital in nearby Bolzano. The tall Swiss racer also suffered a head injury in 2015 after crashing out in the Kitzbuehel super-G. Gisin was not wearing airbag technology when he crashed. The Swiss Ski Federation has not provided any additional updates on his condition at the time of publication but is reported to be in stable condition.
“Offensive and in balance, that was the feeling I had when I was going,” Kilde said of his run. “It was really a comfortable feeling, but also fast, which is not often you have.”
After a breakout year in 2015-16 that saw him claim his first World Cup podium, win, and the overall crystal globe in super-G, the Norwegian has been searching to find that same form in the years since. A podium earlier this month in Beaver Creek was an indication that he was on the right track and given Kilde’s reputation as one of the strongest and most technically sound skiers on Tour, it was really only a matter of time before he climbed atop the podium once more.
“To be honest, it’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for two-and-a-half years now. I had a tough season last year and today I just had a really, really good feeling from gate one till the finish. Crossing the finish line and seeing the green light with over a second was amazing.”
What made Kilde’s victory even more impressive was his winning margin. 0.86 seconds to second place when the rest of the top 10 was separated by less than a half-second. There’s no doubt that Kilde’s lines will be studied by the entire field in preparation for next year’s Saslong showdown.
“I don’t know [what it was],” he reflected. “I think I was on point with the line and also, I tried to stay in my tuck position but it’s hard to say in Val Gardena. If you have the speed with you all the way then you’re fast, but if you’re struggling in one part, you lose a lot of time during your run. It’s hard to say exactly what I did today but I had a really good feeling and I want to keep that going.”
Franz was fast in the two training runs earlier in the week and admitted to feeling pressure to perform on the hill where he earned his first World Cup victory two years ago. Franz also now leads the World Cup downhill standings and wears the red leader’s bib.
“Val Gardena is my favorite course, I like it a lot,” Franz said after the race. “I really like the jumps and the rolls, I’m good on them. I had good results in the training which put a lot of pressure on me from the outside but also from myself. Kilde had an amazing run so I can only be second.”
For Feuz, the joy of his first downhill podium in Val Gardena was overshadowed by Gisin’s crash. The Swiss team is still reeling from the tragic death of 24-year-old Gian Luca Baradun in a paragliding accident in November and is hoping for the best diagnosis for their injured teammate.
“I’m very happy after trying 10 times to podium here in the downhill,” Feuz said. “Even though I’m on the podium, I don’t feel like celebrating because of my teammate Marc Gisin’s crash. We all hope he is OK. I like this course; it’s not too steep but has a lot of jumps and rolls, even though the rolls aren’t my favorite thing.”
It was a breakthrough day for a number of American Downhillers as Bryce Bennett, Steven Nyman, and Travis Ganong finished in fourth, fifth, and sixth place — mere hundredths from the podium themselves. Bennet has not finished worse than 11th in his last four downhill races in Val Gardena.
“Of course, I’m happy,” said Bennett. “I was pretty nervous because I’m in a position to do well here and that expectation can hurt you. All day I was dealing with that — all morning and all through inspection and I was excited to put a good run down. It was a run I wanted to put down and a run I knew I was capable of.”
Finding mental clarity on race day is something Bennett has been working on for the past several seasons. Fast skiing can sometimes get into an up-and-coming racer’s head and ultimately lead to bitter disappointment if not handled properly.
“I think that was something the Olympics taught me,” Bennett explained after the race. “I was fast in the training runs [in PyeongChang] and not so fast in the race and my mental ability was definitely not quite there so I’ve been really trying to work on that recently. I’m happy with today, but hopefully I can keep moving forward even better.”
Nyman has three downhill wins in Val Gardena to his name and was thrilled to not only build on his momentum as he continues to return from a season-ending knee injury, but also continue his budding rivalry with his young protege, Bennett.
“I’m happy with it and for the most part, I skied the way I wanted to ski and ski the way I saw I needed to ski,” explained Nyman. “There was a couple of little mistakes but other than that, it’s a big confidence builder. It’s pretty funny that Bryce is right there, ahead of me now, and I think this year he’s one-hundredth ahead of me in total!”
Ganong is returning from injury as well and has admitted to struggling with feeling comfortable with the speed and intensity of racing World Cup downhill again. After some lackluster results to start the season, Ganong’s sixth-place finish could be just what he needs to return to his old form.
“I’m feeling really good,” he said. “It’s nice to come down and finally have a good result. It’s been, like, six or seven downhill races in a row now where I haven’t really put a good run down. In training, I’ve shown speed so it’s really nice to just have a good performance on race day.”
Thomas Biesemeyer and Wiley Maple joined their teammates in the points, finishing in 27th and 28th place, respectively. Jared Goldberg finished in 31st and Sam Morse finished 48th.
The men’s tour now makes the short drive to Alta Badia, Italy, for giant slalom and parallel giant slalom action Dec. 16-17.
1. Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (NOR)- Head/Head/Head
2. Max Franz (AUT)- Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
3. Beat Feuz (SUI)- Head/Head/Head
4. Bryce Bennett (USA)- Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
5. Steven Nyman (USA)- Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
6. Travis Ganong (USA)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
7. Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR)- Head/Head/Head
8. Mauro Caviezel (SUI)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
9. Adrien Theaux (FRA)- Head/Head/Head
10. Benjamin Thomsen (CAN)- Head/Head/Head
10. Hannes Reichelt (AUT)- Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
For complete FIS results, please click here.