One of the all-time greats
The Norwegian colossus, standing 189cm tall and weighing almost 100kg, has experienced it all in Alpine skiing. The glory of being world number 1 in 2007 and 2009; of becoming, at PyeongChang 2018, the first-ever Norwegian Olympic downhill champion; of winning gold in the super-G in Vancouver in 2010; and of taking home five gold medals from the World Championships between 2007 and 2013. But Aksel has also experienced the torment of repeated injuries, which over the course of a decade have put an early end to several seasons in which the Norwegian had been competing at the highest level.
First-ever Norwegian Olympic downhill champion
On 15 February 2018, on the downhill course at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, Aksel entered the start gate for his fourth Olympic downhill wearing bib number 7, with the air of a Viking ready to charge. He skated the first metres of the course in the manner of someone adept at the cross-country skiing Norway is famous for. His run was characterised by rage and aggressive power, precision in his line and exponential speed: he stopped the clock at 1:40:25 to beat his compatriot Kjetil Jansrud by 0.12 seconds and Switzerland's Beat Feuz by 0.18 seconds. At 35 years and 51 days, Aksel Lund Svindal became the oldest Olympic Alpine skiing champion of all time, but also the first Norwegian to win the downhill at the Winter Games! The crowning achievement of a long career... broken up by long periods out of action.
An impressive list of achievements despite several interruptions
"The last Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014 did not go as I hoped, and since then, I haven’t had a single season where I have finished without injury. This is the first time I have skied in February for four years. I was in hospital every other year; it was therefore perfect timing for me to be on the piste at this time of the year," he said following the win. So perfect that Aksel added a third Olympic medal to the gold in super-G and the bronze in giant slalom he took home from Vancouver 2010, and completed a full World Cup season with eight downhill and super-G podiums, three wins and third place overall. His results in all competitions since 2006 (35 World Cup victories, 77 podiums, 11 Crystal Globes and eight medals – including five titles – at the World Championships) make Aksel Lund Svindal the greatest Norwegian Alpine skier of all time, alongside the retired Kjetil André Aamodt.
First Games, first victories
The Norwegian colossus, capable of standing out in any one of four disciplines, first joined the World Cup circuit in 2003. But it was three years later that he exploded into the limelight at the very top level. Aksel's first Olympic experience was at the 2006 Games in Turin. He left the Games without a medal round his neck, but happy with his performances, with good fifth and sixth places in the shadow of another giant, his compatriot Aamodt. In that same year, he won his first World Cup races in Åre (SWE) and Lake Louise (CAN) in downhill and super-G. The following year was even stronger for Aksel: world champion in downhill and giant slalom in Åre in 2007, winner of his first big Crystal Globe at the end of the season and small Crystal Globes for giant slalom and the combined.
On every step of the podium at Vancouver 2010
His international career was interrupted for the first time by a serious fall in Beaver Creek in December 2007, which took him a year to recover from. But he came back even stronger, winning a second big Crystal Globe in 2009 and earning a place on every step of the podium at the 2010 Vancouver Games: he finished second in the downhill, 0.07 seconds behind Switzerland's Didier Défago and 0.02 seconds ahead of the American Bode Miller, before beating Miller again, this time by 0.28 seconds, in the super-G to take his first Olympic title. Leading after the speed leg of the super combined, Aksel failed to finish the slalom after straddling a gate pole a few gates from the finish. This error cost him the chance to secure a third medal in three events. But it was only a matter of time. In the giant slalom, Aksel finished third after the first run and, despite only placing eighth in the second, he kept enough of a time gap over his competitors to take the bronze in the event won by Switzerland's Carlo Janka. A medal in each colour was the reward for a powerful athlete with a will of steel that has never failed him.
Victories, titles and injuries
In the years that followed, Aksel was world champion twice (2011 and 2013), regularly battling Marcel Hirscher for the World Cup overall title. He also won small Crystal Globes for downhill in 2013 and 2014, and for super-G in 2012, 2013 and 2014; and took 2013 World Championship gold in the downhill in Schladming. At Sochi in 2014, he was the flagbearer for Norway in the Opening Ceremony, and his best result at Rosa Khutor was fourth place in the downhill. Then there was a series of injuries, interspersed by roaring returns (he won four downhills and three super-Gs in the 2015-2016 season), which led him to his triumphant 2018 Olympic winter!
"I am grateful to have realised the majority of my dreams and to have had the experience of major victories at the Olympic Games and the World Championships. I'm still very much enjoying skiing mountains all around the world, and I hope to be able to continue to do so for a few more years yet," he said. But he also said, after his victory in PyeongChang: "I guess this is the beginning of the end somehow, definitely my last Olympics. Nothing is 100 per cent sure but that’s very, very close to being 100 per cent sure."