SOELDEN, Austria (AP) Finishing 4.25 seconds behind the winner would usually drive Aksel Lund Svindal mad. On Sunday, it didn’t.
Competing in his first World Cup race in 19 months, the Norwegian placed 24th in the season-opening giant slalom, more than four seconds behind American winner Ted Ligety.
”I am feeling relaxed about this,” said the two-time former overall champion, who will be seeking a return to his best form for upcoming speed races. ”I hoped to be faster but I also knew it would be a tough race. I wasn’t really prepared for this stuff, to be honest.”
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The Rettenbach glacier makes for one of the most challenging GS courses on the men’s circuit, with an icy surface and a steep pitch.
Not the ideal venue for a comeback after a long injury layoff. Apart from two starts at the world championships in Beaver Creek in February, Svindal sat out the entire season after tearing his Achilles tendon in October last year.
He’s made a successful comeback from serious injury before. As defending overall champion, he missed almost the entire 2007-08 campaign after a horrifying crash but regained his title in 2009.
Svindal initially planned to skip Sunday’s race and postpone his return until speed racing starts in Lake Louise late November.
”The plan this spring was I wouldn’t race Soelden,” he said. ”But I had a few good days of giant slalom training so I decided to race. I will approach GS flexible this year. Important to me are downhill and super-G.”
Svindal was the 2007 world champion and 2010 Olympic bronze medalist in GS. He has won four World Cup giant slaloms in his career but none since his victory in Adelboden, Switzerland, in January 2011.
The discipline has been dominated in recent years by technical specialists, like Ligety and Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, who invest more time in GS training than speed specialists like Svindal.
And with the next races in Canada just five weeks away, the Norwegian’s focus will turn to speed training again.
”We will get more training now mostly super-G and downhill,” Svindal said. ”But we’ll try to get some GS in as well. We haven’t been skiing a lot of GS. Only a few days since the spring.”
Svindal’s close friend and Norwegian teammate, Kjetil Jansrud, is also a speed specialist who aims for additional points in GS in order to compete for the overall championship.
In Svindal’s absence, Jansrud led the standings for several weeks last year but ultimately ended runner-up to Hirscher – the same situation Svindal had been in two times before.
”We can’t train as much GS as we would need to,” Jansrud said. ”It’s going to be a tough year in GS. Instead of saying, `I want to be top five every race,’ I say the goal is top 10 and if I can pull out some really good results on some hills that suit me, then I’ll be happy.”
This season, the Norwegian duo plans another attack on four-time champion Hirscher’s dominance. They got confirmation again on Sunday that they will need to score heavily in the speed events to prevail.