Aksel Lund Svindal looks for elusive Lauberhorn win
Norwegian great only has 1 podium finish in 9 tries at historic course
After eight different winners of the historic Lauberhorn race in the past eight years, Aksel Lund Svindal is overdue to join the list.
The dominant downhill racer of this men's generation has 11 World Cup wins, two world championship titles and an Olympic silver medal in the marquee Alpine event.
Svindal was fastest in a shortened training run on Thursday in Wengen, Switzerland, suggesting he can use Saturday's classic race to improve a strangely poor record of one third-place finish in nine tries.
"I've been faster since 2013," said the Norwegian racer, who crashed that year as he landed off the signature cliff-face jump. "Now it's time to take that speed and maybe try to win it."
Svindal won the first three downhills this season on courses better suiting his ability to keep speed in technical turning sections, including the Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek, Colorado.
The 86-year-old Wengen race down the longest World Cup track course is quirkier, with the fastest and slowest sections on tour and a lot of straights.
Canadians have climbed the podium five times at the Lauberhorn, with Manuel Osborne-Paradis – who won silver in 2008 and 2010 – being the last to do so.
What do <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CANskiteam?src=hash">#CANskiteam</a> members do on a day off in Europe? Play hockey of course. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TeamCanada?src=hash">#TeamCanada</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/lauberhorn?src=hash">#lauberhorn</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/wengen?src=hash">#wengen</a> <a href="https://t.co/Pj7hYqYKfN">pic.twitter.com/Pj7hYqYKfN</a>—@Alpine_Canada
In 2013, a World Cup speed record of 161.9 kph was set by Johan Clarey of France on the Hanneggschuss section two minutes in. Steven Nyman topped out at 146.2 kph there Thursday, and Svindal hit 144.40 kph.
"I like [the course] but it's not my favourite," Svindal said. "It's not an easy race, and there are a lot of places to make a mistake."
On Thursday, he timed one minute, 49.66 seconds on a course cut by around 40 seconds because of poor visibility higher up the mountain. Vincent Kriechmayr of Austria was .04 behind, and third-place Peter Fill of Italy trailed Svindal by .08.
The full scheduled distance of nearly 4.4-kilometre can be run Saturday only if all skiers fulfil World Cup rules by training down the whole course. That needs a planned early-morning ski down the top section to fill the training gap ahead of a lunchtime race start.
Only then will it be a proper Wengen test, said last year's winner Hannes Reichelt of Austria, who was fourth fastest Thursday.
"The Lauberhorn is the Lauberhorn only when you start from the original start," said Reichelt, who would be the first two-time winner since American Bode Miller.
Since Miller's back-to back victories in 2007 and 2008, seven different men have won, including four from the host nation which typically draws its biggest television sports rating of the year.
"It's hard to ski perfect," said Kjetil Jansrud, who won the World Cup downhill title last season while teammate Svindal was out injured. "Wengen takes a complete skier to win. One mistake and you're out [of contention]."
The three-race Wengen meeting opens Friday with a combined event, including a shortened downhill and single slalom run. The two-run slalom event is Sunday.
Warm temperatures and below average snowfalls near the Eiger and Jungfrau mountain peaks have created a first for Wengen during 50 seasons of World Cup racing. The slaloms will be run on the downhill course rather than the shorter adjoining hill due to problems for course workers in trying to prepare two racing surfaces.
From the CBC Archives: Members of the Crazy Canucks had very opposite results on the course in 1980. Ken Read took top spot on the podium while Dave Irwin needed help getting off the course:
With files from CBC Sports