Svindal power takes Gold in Schladming

Aksel Lund Svindal produced an awesome performance to win his fifth World title in the Downhill in Schladming. It was not a run without faults he admitted but it was a powerful and determined performance that left the rest of the field in his wake. With the track having a light covering of snow on top of a hard packed piste, this gave the racers more to think about. In the end only one racer was able to live with the performance of the Norwegian and that was one of the rising stars of the Downhill discipline, Dominik Paris, who had followed the giant Viking down. David Poisson held on to take the bronze medal, France’s second medal of the Championships yet their first since Luc Alphand had taken bronze in 1996. Klaus Kroell was left empty handed with fourth place ahead of Finland’s Andy Romar.

All the talk before the race was focused on the the local Austrian and how this was now his time. It seemed that the Austrian press had conveniently forgotten that Aksel Lund Svindal had won the last race held down the course at the end of last season. Svindal is also the man in form. Despite following the defending Champion down, Erik Guay, Svindal was in a class of his own. Apart from Bernhard Russi in 1970 and 1972, no racer had won two World Championship downhill titles before this race. Then again no racer had won Gold Medal’s in four consecutive World Championships but then again records are there to be broken it is said!

With the training runs having been broken up due to the timetable of the races, this was only the second time the racers did the full length course. The final training run had finished at the top of the slalom course and then the racers had been given the opportunity to race the lower section on the morning of the race. Hardly ideal but this was what was offered and Andrew Weibrecht posted the fastest time on the final training. How he wished that would have been his race run!

Matthias Mayer, one of the young Austrians making a name for himself had looked to take a healthy lead before making a mistake in the middle of the course. This cost him valuable time and his chance had gone, he did have the lead but it was not a race wining lead. Adrej Sporn soon came down and took the lead but he had hardly made the leaders enclosure and got his jacket on before Andy Romar from Finland gate crashed the party. Finland is not a nation noted for its speed skiers, Kalle Palander may have won a World Title in 1999 but this was in Slalom. Romar had the lead and it was now up to the rest of the field to better this time.

A team that has been struggling this year is the Swiss yet the Grand Old Man of the team, the defending Olympic Downhill Champion, Didier Defago showed the young guns that will soon be entrusted with the future of the team, the way to rise to the occassion of major races. Defago used all his experience to battle his way down the course. Defago went into second and for a moment it looked as though he could add to his career highlights – the big guns still had to come but when you have a time posted in the finish, the rest have to beat that.

It was David Poisson who userped the Fin from the lead. Poisson has had his fair share of injuries in his career yet admitted to using the joy of his teammate Gauthier de Tessieres as his inspiration. When a team is on a roll, it is on a roll.

By the time the race had moved on to Erik Guay starting 16, the thought of could the Canadians make it three wins on the bounce in the downhill World Championship was alive. it was not to be and try as hard as he might, Guay would be unable to defend his title. Jan Hudec would be the best of the Canadians in ninth place.

Number 17 was Aksel Lund Svindal. From the moment he came out of the start, his father, watching in the finish recognised that his son had something about him and that he would do something special. Special is what he did. Svindal is a tall man yet the way his skis carved down the Planai slope was awesome. Sure, he made mistakes but it has been well documented that it is the racer who makes the fewest mistakes who normally wins. “I risked a lot,” explained Svindal “and I made a few mistakes but it was a great feeling to come into the finish with the best time!” Svindal fought hard to stay on the line and carried his speed down the course.

By the bottom he was almost a second ahead of Paris but there was still a few of the big guns to come: Paris, Reichelt and Kroell amongst them.

Paris was next up and the tall Italian attacked from the off. While it was a good run, he was always behind the clock. At the bottom it was good enough for second and the Italian commented: “It has been a great year for me, we have worked hard to make me a better skier.” With World Cup wins, he most certainly is a better skier and now was sitting in second place.

Reichelt’s chance of a medal disappeared as he sat back on landing from a jump and then skied off course; Theaux failed to challenge and Innerhofer was even further back. It was now down to Kroell to rescue the day for Austria or allow Svindal to walk away with the Gold. Like Paris, Kroell was there and there abouts but crucially not infront of the Norwegian and by the time he crossed the line it was the most agonising position of all: 4th. Kroell said that he did not believe at first that he was actually 4th, he admitted afterwards. With Kroell being the last of the four man Austrian team, the investigation as to why the Austrians have now gone ten years since winning the Downhill crown started. Eberharter, Strobl and Walchhofer (last Austrian to win in 2003) were all brought in front of the TV cameras to try and explain. The simple answer was that Svindal was just too good for the rest on the day. The weather, the snow and the other factors were similar for all, Svindal was the difference.

So the analysis will start and go on long into the night. The 40,000 fans that came to watch will party hard and in the morning the Women will race….

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