Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal has won yet another downhill this season, marking a perfect record in the discipline through the first three races. His winning time of 1:54.80 seconds down Val Gardena’s Saslong track bested second-place finisher, Frenchman Guillermo Fayed by 0.43 seconds. Joining Svindal on the podium for the second day in a row was his compatriot Kjetil Jansrud, finishing in third place at 0.46 seconds back.
It was apparent from bib one that speeds were higher than in the two training runs as each racer rocketed down the slope, catching massive air over the Camel Humps and skipping over terrain through Ciaslat Meadow before plunging into the finish with times well faster than in training.
With textbook aggressive – yet composed – skiing, Svindal held a steady lead from interval to interval, never looking out of control or out of his comfort zone.
“Incredible start, of course,” Svindal said. “Lake Louise was unbelievable and Beaver Creek, the super G was a funny race but the downhill was amazing. Now we move to Italy and it continues, it’s been unbelievable. You know you’re fast and you hope you’re also fast compared to everyone else, but there’s a difference between being fast and being able to win when it really matters.”
If there’s one thing Svindal seems to have figured out this season, it’s winning when it really matters.
“I like Italy, this is a place that has always been good to me. I feel like I have good support, too. The crowd is very Norwegian-friendly, so it’s a good place to race,” he added.
If Svindal keeps this form going for the remainder of the season, he’ll be hard pressed to find a crowd that isn’t Norwegian friendly. His dominance in the downhill this season has been nothing short of legendary.
So, is this the best Svindal we have ever seen?
“In downhill it is,” he admitted. “I definitely used to be better in GS, but let’s focus on the positives. So it’s the best downhill me ever. It’s all about being fast, right? You carry speed and you do your best all the way down. You look for speed in every single section and put your head down over the finish line and look up once you’ve crossed it and hope to see a green light. So far this season, there’s been a lot of green lights. It’s good stuff.”
Frenchman Guillermo Fayed spoiled the Norwegian party on the top of the podium as he split the Attacking Vikings by slotting into second place from bib 22.
Commenting on the winner’s form, Fayed indicated that there’s something Svindal is doing that everyone else just can’t match.
“This year, it’s very difficult to try and beat him,” Fayed explained. “Second here, it’s perfect for me. We don’t know, we try to see on the video and make the same, but it’s not the same. He has the talent and he is a great champion.”
Jansrud may have been caught a little off guard with he increased speed from the training runs, but nevertheless was happy with yet another podium appearance alongside his teammate.
“The run was good. It was a busy run, it was very fast. It was fast here in the training,” he explained. “Even though we saw it on the TV for the first guys, I think everybody was a little surprised that it was that much bigger jumps and that much higher speed. I did a few mistakes, same as a lot of other people, but I’m happy to be on the podium. Now, on the podium both days here this weekend is where I want to be. I think I can still take a few more steps, but I’m happy so far and hopefully we’ll see an even faster me coming towards the end.”
Stepping onto the starting gate wearing bib 57 was young American Downhiller Bryce Bennett. The crowd had grown quiet since the excitement of the top 30 racers, but things were about to get loud in a hurry.
Calm and composed on the at times chaotic track, the six-foot-seven-inch California kid, complete with flowing surfer hair to boot, looked Svindal-esque as he capitalized on his large frame to keep his skis on the snow and carry speed from turn to turn through key sections where lesser skiers were thrown off line and forced to make recoveries. Crossing the finish line 1.04 seconds back in sixth place, the once hush crowd erupted in cheers as Bennett lifted his goggles in sheer disbelief before letting a well-deserved fist pump fly.
“I’m still surprised. I crossed the finish and saw sixth and I was like, what? No chance! The timer is broken!” an exhilarated Bennett said in the finish. “I just got in the zone somehow. I’ve been working on it, and it clicked a little bit. I just laser beamed the whole course, just focused every section and it was fast.”
For Bennett, finding the maturity to shake off a bad performance in yesterday’s super G was the key to how he was able to channel his inner self and come away with a stunning result today.
“Yesterday went terribly. I was thinking just sideways thoughts all day, so today I tried to ski a bit more and just read a book and just not really think about skiing,” he said. “When I got in the gate, I just skied. I don’t know what happened.”
In addition to Bennett’s stellar performance, Steven Nyman (who was hoping for his fourth career win in Val Gardena) finsihed ninth, Travis Ganong was 13th, and Andrew Weibrecht was 17th, giving the Americans an impressive four skiers in the top 17.
For Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer of Austria, the day ended prematurely with an undesired airlift to the local hospital following a hard crash.
Just before a bump heading into the Ciaslat section, Mayer’s outside ski slid out from underneath him, causing his inside ski to bite hard into the snow which sent him spinning out of control as he took flight. Landing hard on his side, Mayer looked to be in visible pain as he slid to a stop.
Initial reports indicate that Mayer experienced trouble breathing following the crash, but no severe injuries were apparent. He was airlifted for further evaluation.
Mayer’s crash was the first time a Dianese airbag vest has been deployed in a race situation. Only Austrian and Canadian athletes have taken advantage of the new technology in races, though the Norwegian team has reportedly tested it in training. An event such as this makes the plausible case for more athletes and teams to adopt the potential life-saving technology. Judging by the severity of Mayer’s impact on the concrete-like manmade surface, things could have been much, much worse.
The men now head to Alta Badia, Italy, for giant slalom and parallel GS races Dec. 20-21, with the first run of GS slated for 9:15 a.m. CET on Sunday.
UPDATE: The Austrian Ski Team reports that after further evaluation at the Bolzano hospital, Mayer has suffered a fracture of the T7 vertebra and is expected to miss four weeks. We wish the reigning Olympic downhill champ a speedy recovery. Get well soon, Matthias!
View more photos from today’s race here.
Fans can stay current on the World Cup circuit by downloading the new U.S. Ski Team iOS app powered by Ski Racing here.
By Hank McKee
- Svindal, Head/Head/Head
- Fayed, Head/Head/Head
- Jansrud, Head/Head/Head
- Fill, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Guay, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Bennett, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Kriechmayr, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Franz, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Nyman, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Ferstl, Head/Head/Head
- Men’s World Cup downhill, Val Gardena, Italy, Dec. 19, 2015. … It is the 10th of 45 races on the men’s World Cup schedule … the third of 11 scheduled downhills. … It is the 48th running of the Saslong Classic. … Steven Nyman is the defending champion.
- It is the 30th career win for Aksel Lund Svindal … his 11th in downhill. … It is his fifth win at Val Gardena but first at the site in downhill. … It is his fifth win of the season in seven races.
- It is the fourth career World Cup podium for Guillermo Fayed, all of them coming since Nov. 2014. … He missed the podium in downhill at Val Gardean last season by one placing.
- It is the 28th career World Cup podium for Kjetil Jansrud … his sixth at Val Gardena. … It is his third podium of the World Cup season and second of the weekend.
- It is the ninth World Cup top five at Val Gardena for Erik Guay. … His first top five of the season. … It is the second career World Cup scoring result for Bryce Bennett. … He started 57th. … His previous best result was 29th at Beaver Creek Dec. 4. … It is the 14th career top 10 for Steven Nyman … the 12th in downhill. … It is his best finish of the season, the previous best a 15th at Beaver Creek. … It is the 34th time Manuel Osborne-Paradis has finished among the top dozen of a World Cup race. … It is his eighth best of 17 results at Val Gardena … and his best finish of the season. …. Travis Ganong matches his second best World Cup finish at Val Gardena exactly a year ago. … It is the third best result at Val Gardena for Andrew Weibrecht.
- Svindal leads the World Cup overall standings 517-440 over Marcel Hirscher (did not race). … Jansrud is third with 307pts. … Travis Ganong (13th in race) is seventh overall with 204pts. … Ted Ligety (did not race) is ninth at 191.
- Svindal leads the downhill standings 300-190 over Fayed … Jansrud is third with 169pts. … Ganong is fifth with 102pts. … Guay (fifth in race) is seventh with 95pts.
- Austria leads the men’s Nations Cup 1584-1235 over Norway. … Italy is third with 1076. … The US is fifth with 820pts and Canada eighth with 228pts.
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points|
|1||21||421328||SVINDAL Aksel Lund||1982||NOR||1:54.80||0.00|
|15||34||194542||GIRAUD MOINE Valentin||1992||FRA||1:56.27||+1.47||16.01|
|32||59||110324||VON APPEN Henrik||1994||CHI||1:57.18||+2.38||25.91|
|39||44||380292||ZRNCIC DIM Natko||1986||CRO||1:57.46||+2.66||28.96|
|45||51||422310||SEJERSTED Adrian Smiseth||1994||NOR||1:58.07||+3.27||35.61|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|27||422139||KILDE Aleksander Aamodt||1992||NOR|