Svindal quickly up to speed after Achilles tendon injury
COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. (AP) Aksel Lund Svindal doesn't feel old and certainly doesn't race like it.
Still, the Norwegian great sees some of his contemporaries leaving the World Cup scene for other endeavors and this cold, hard dose of reality hits home: ''Before you know it, you are the old, experienced guy,'' he said.
A month shy of his 33rd birthday and with his surgically repaired Achilles tendon almost good as new, Svindal is in no hurry to slow down. Especially since he's keeping up in training sessions with teammate Kjetil Jansrud, who's as fast on skis as they come these days.
Svindal's quickly rounding back into top form, too, turning in the best time Wednesday during a downhill training run in Lake Louise, Alberta.
''I enjoy the process and that's a sign I could do this for a while,'' Svindal said. ''As long as I'm healthy and able to be fast and have good friends – some of my teammates are my best friends – there's no reason not to do this.''
He's far from the oldest guy on the tour, with Italian Patrick Thaler racing at 37. But the scene is different this season with Benjamin Raich retiring and Bode Miller taking a hiatus. Those are racers he used to contend with for overall titles.
''Definitely feel a lot older than I used to,'' Svindal joked. ''I don't care. I enjoy it.''
Svindal can take comfort in this: Didier Cuche of Switzerland won four World Cup races at 37.
Since making his World Cup debut in 2001, Svindal has captured 11 medals at major championships, including three at the Vancouver Olympics, where he took home gold in super-G, silver in downhill and bronze in GS.
''Aksel's back now after the injury and he's as good as he was,'' said Jansrud, who finished second in the downhill training session Wednesday, 0.72 seconds behind his countryman. The season-opening men's downhill is Saturday. ''He's pushing us in training and making sure we're not becoming sloppy. It's important (to have him back) and it's cool.''
Svindal demonstrated he heals just as quickly as he races. Last October, he tore his left Achilles tendon while juggling a soccer ball. No one thought he would return four months later for the world championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado. Nearly impossible, everyone told him.
''My reply was nothing is impossible,'' he said.
And there he was last February, finishing sixth in both the super-G and downhill despite a bump on the back of his Achilles tendon that made it challenging to stuff his foot inside his ski boot.
Then again, he's come back strong from injuries before. In 2007, he crashed at Beaver Creek when he lost control over a jump and landed in the safety netting, breaking bones in his face and suffering a laceration to his groin and abdominal area.
Svindal returned the next season and captured his second overall title.
Missing so much time last season, Svindal was behind in training, a point driven home with Jansrud routinely faster than him at practice in the spring.
''But now I'm catching up,'' Svindal said, smiling.
Enough for his goal to be on centered on another overall crown?
''No,'' he said. ''I need to prove myself. Show that I can fight for podiums and wins. When I've done that, I can start talking about the overall.''
While he was sidelined with his Achilles tendon injury, Svindal spent some time in San Francisco. More specifically, time with highly regarded professors at Stanford and powerful CEOs of startup companies in Silicon Valley. He wanted to know what made them so successful, maybe even apply it to ski racing.
Bottom line: Be surrounded by good people and, well, the obvious – hard work does pay off.
''If you really want it and work hard, you're more likely to make it happen than someone who's faking it and doesn't put in the hours,'' Svindal said. ''That's something similar to sports: If you really want it and you work hard to get it, you're more likely to be successful than someone who's not willing to put in the same amount of work.
''There's something about that that I like. It's fair.''