Aksel Lund Svindal completes sweep at Lake Louise with super-G win
Aksel Lund Svindal is in a ski racer's mental sweet spot.
Canada's Jan Hudec says there's 20 men on the World Cup circuit capable of winning; there's five who think they can win and one or two who know they can win.
Svindal is in the last category after sweeping both the downhill and super-G races at the Lake Louise Winterstart World Cup.
The big Norwegian is the first man to win the double crowns at Lake Louise since American Bode Miller in 2004.
"That's the great thing about skiing. When you have it, you go fast," Svindal said Sunday after his super-G victory.
It was his second in a row at Lake Louise after winning the discipline in 2011.
"Most racers, including myself, you don't have the chance to win World Cups every day and when you feel you have a chance, you have to get after it," Svindal continued. "Yesterday and today, I felt 'this is a race I can win' and you've got to try and take advantage of those opportunities."
Svindal beat runner-up Adrien Theaux of France by .85 seconds Sunday. Joachim Puchner of Austria finished third.
Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was the top Canadian in 11th and Calgary's John Kucera was 14th.
Svindal won the season-opening downhill Saturday by over half a second.
"He's got the magic touch right now," Guay observed. "He obviously schooled everybody today.
"Eighty-five hundredths is a huge margin in the super-G, but it's also good for us at the same time because we can watch that on video and see what he's doing and try to learn from it. He seems to be on fire right now."
The Canadians left their home races at the mountain resort west of Calgary with three top-15 results, but no medals. Guay's sixth in downhill was the host team's best result.
Canada's top racers weren't at their optimum racing form. Guay, the reigning world downhill champion, and Hudec were both behind in their preparation because of arthroscopic knee surgeries in late September.
Kucera raced for the first time since badly breaking his leg at Lake Louise three years ago. Vancouver's Manuel Osborne-Paradis also returned to racing after breaking his leg in Chamonix, France, in 2011.
All four Canadians have finished on the podium at Lake Louise during their careers. Osborne-Paradis (2009), Hudec (2007) and Kucera (2006) were winners there.
"We should be aiming a little bit higher right now," Guay said. "We're kind of being satisfied with qualifying and finishing in the top 20. I think we should be charging for the podium."
The men head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for downhill, super-G and giant slalom races on the Birds of Prey course. The women arrive at Lake Louise this week for downhill races Friday and Saturday and Sunday's super-G.
American ski star Lindsey Vonn swept all three races in 2011 and has won 11 times at Lake Louise. She petitioned the world governing body of skiing to race the men at Lake Louise this year but was denied.
Vonn was recently hospitalized with a stomach ailment, which set her back. She finished 21st in a giant slalom in Aspen, Colo., on Saturday and skipped Sunday's slalom to prepare for Lake Louise.
Finishing among the top 15 men in his second race after a three-year hiatus was significant for Kucera.
He badly fractured his leg racing super-G at Lake Louise in 2009. He re-injured the leg attempting a comeback and herniated discs in his back also delayed his return.
"It's the confidence to know I can come out here after three years after barely skiing and still compete with these guys," Kucera said. "That's huge and that's a good building block, a good stepping stone towards the rest of the year."
The objective for the Canadian team this season is five World Cup medals and a podium at the 2013 world championship Feb. 4-17 in Schladming, Austria.
"John Kucera's result today is really, really exciting for us," Alpine Canada president Max Gartner said. "I'm excited for him to walk away feeling he's in the game again.
"It's optimistic going into the next races and with the big highlight being the world championships in February, hopefully the guys are going to get some momentum as the season progresses. You always want to win at home, but I think the way we came in here, we knew a couple solid results would help us set the stage for this year."
The top 30 in a World Cup race earn points which contribute to their ranking, start positions and the overall season titles. Hudec salvaged a top-20 result Sunday despite a hectic race. The Calgarian went down on his hip at high speed, but recovered for 18th place.
Dustin Cook of Lac-Sainte-Marie, Que., was 28th, Jeffrey Frisch of Mont-Tremblant, Que., finished 31st and Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., tied for 34th.
Osborne-Paradis was 22nd in downhill and didn't race Sunday. Based on training results, Canada's coaches chose Cook to race super-G instead of Osborne-Paradis.
Svindal's victory was the 18th of his career. Five years ago, he crashed spectacularly in a downhill training run on the Birds of Prey course. Broken bones in his face and a severe laceration in his abdomen sidelined him for the entire 2007-08 season.
Svindal returned to capture the overall World Cup title in 2009. He won Olympic gold in super-G, silver in downhill and bronze in giant slalom at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, B.C.
The six-foot-four, 209-pound skier has opened the 2011-12 with that elusive combination of strength, health, equipment and the knowledge he can take risks on the course and win.
"The most interesting part is how you get there," Svindal said. "My way of getting there is I don't use sports psychiatry for instance and someone telling me I should get there.
"I know if I prepared and worked harder than anyone, I ski fast in training and I've chosen my equipment good then I've done all the preparations I can do and it's all up to me.
"I have to be attacking it when I go down. I can't let anyone else win it because I want to try and win it and I think that's the interesting part - how you get to that state. It seems impossible if you're not there, believe me. I've been out of it and trying to get there."
The 29-year-old says the crash of 2007 changed him as a racer. He was coming off a super-G win in Lake Louise and felt like "superman" up arrival in Beaver Creek.
"I was a second ahead of everyone on the training run, which is unnecessary because it was the first training run," Svindal recalled. "I went down hard and when I hit the fence, I wasn't so much superman any more.
"The kind of risks I took yesterday and today there's no need to take in training and that's the lesson learned from that experience.
"The odds add up. If you take risks every day all through the year . . . for instance, I don't drive a motorcycle. I used to but I sold it. I don't want to play the odds too much."