Aksel Lund Svindal wins men's downhill at Lake Louise, Erik Guay 6th
Using Canada's Erik Guay as a gauge, Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal knew what to do to win the season-opening World Cup downhill at Lake Louise on Saturday.
The chatter between coaches and racers at the start hut was whether anyone could beat Austrian Max Franz, the third man down the mountain whose time remained the fastest deep into the starting lineup.
Guay had the No. 20 start bib and Svindal No. 22, so the big Norwegian took a reading off the Canadian's run.
"I asked the Canadians how Erik did when he was going, if he was matching up with times or losing anywhere," Svindal explained. "He's a good skier and if he lost a lot [of time] in a section without a mistake then obviously it would be the conditions.
"He was right there so I was like 'OK, it's still possible.' But you definitely have to put one down. I figured I had to risk if I wanted to try and get this win."
Svindal earned his fourth career World Cup victory at Lake Louise, but first in downhill after three super-G wins. His time was one minute 48.31 seconds on the three-kilometre Olympic course.
Franz was second in 1:48.95 followed by a tie for third between last season's downhill champion Klaus Kroell of Austria and Marco Sullivan of the U.S. in 1.48.97.
Guay, from Mont-Tremblant, Que., was sixth in 1:49.48. He was second when he crossed the finish line and pumped his fists in triumph.
The 31-year-old was quickly trumped by Kroell and Svindal, the next two men down the hill, and then later by Germany's Tobias Stechert, who finished fifth, and Sullivan.
Guay felt satisfied with his race because arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in late September limited his time on snow to prepare for Lake Louise.
"If I look back at these past weeks and where I was and how my knee felt, I wasn't even sure if I'd be here." Guay said. "Once I become more natural on my skiing and I'm able to do it top to bottom . . . I think I will be on the podium absolutely.
"We were at the start and we knew Franz had an incredible run. He started early and had a buffed course. I was out there chatting with Svindal and we thought he pretty much had it. I guess Aksel showed everybody he could still do it from the back."
Lake Louise sweep
Svindal, the reigning Olympic champion, can complete a Lake Louise sweep with a win in Sunday's super-G. His first career victory was here in 2005.
"The Canadians do well in Norway and we usually do well in Canada. It's a good working relationship," Svindal said. "It has to do with latitude obviously, but this is more similar to Norway than a lot of the places we go in Europe."
Svindal, 29, won super-G gold, downhill silver and giant slalom bronze at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
A week after winning the super-G at Lake Louise in 2007, Svindal crashed horrifically in downhill training in Beaver Creek, Colo. Broken bones in his face and a deep laceration near his abdomen sidelined him the entire 2007-08 season.
Sullivan was the surprise of the day Saturday given his late start number of 42. It's difficult to get on the podium outside the top 30 because the course becomes choppy from previous racers and changing weather conditions can make it a different course entirely.
"The course crew did a good job of preparing the track," Sullivan said. "It stayed pretty consistent. The big thing was the weather. There was wind on and off and clouds and sun. I was crossing my fingers hoping it didn't get too bad."
"The clouds came in and it looked really dark and then with about four minutes to go, that little bit of sun poked through again. Staying mentally calm through that was important."
Calgary's Jan Hudec was 17th. He was disappointed in that result and hoped for better in super-G. Hudec finished sixth in that discipline in the overall World Cup standings last season.
"This year, I'm ranked a little bit better so I have more pressure to perform, but for me, I thrive under pressure," Hudec said. "It's something that gets me excited and pumped up for the race."
Vancouver's Manuel Osborne-Paradis finished 22nd in his first race since breaking his leg in Chamonix, France, in January, 2011. He considers that progress given his high start number of 44.
"It's nice to know that you can still be competitive," Osborne-Paradis said. "I've just got to get this start number back down where the good guys are and once that happens I'll be race-ready."
Calgary John Kucera also raced for the first time since breaking his leg at Lake Louise three years ago. The 2009 world downhill champion placed 36th.
"It's been awhile," Kucera said. "I was pretty nervous yesterday and this morning. A lot of uncertainty and all that kind of stuff.
"I wanted to come out today and not really worry about where I was going to finish, but just have a solid run that I can build on. I think I did that and it's nice to see I can compete with the best guys in the world still. That's huge after three years off. I don't think anybody has really tried to come back after three years."
Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., clipped a ski on a rock on the upper portion of the course and ended up 45th. Jeffrey Frisch of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was 48th. Conrad Pridy of Whistler, B.C. and Dustin Cook of Lac-Sainte-Marie, Que., did not finish.