Aksel Lund Svindal has won gold in one of the Olympic Winter Games’ most classic events, the men’s downhill, at PyeongChang 2018 on 15 February. On a spectacular day for Norway, his team-mate Kjetil Jansrud took silver. Current world champion Beat Feuz (SUI) was third.
Svindal, the most successful Norwegian downhill skier in World Championship history, has never previously won Olympic downhill gold, though he won the super-G at Vancouver 2010. He skied in in typically aggressive style at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, gaining a real advantage over his rivals through the middle section of the course. His victory was greeted at the finish by delighted Norwegian fans sporting Viking helmets.
The hugely experienced Jansrud, 32, won silver after showing impressive form in training. His latest Olympic downhill medal goes with the bronze he won at Sochi 2014.
Feuz, 31, leads the World Cup standings this season. He had been tipped as the man to beat by Austrian great Franz Klammer, who won downhill Olympic gold in 1976. In the end, he was clocked at 0.18 seconds slower than Svindal.
Svindal’s win means Norway now join an elite club of six nations whose athletes have won a men’s downhill Olympic gold. Austria leads that group with seven wins, but their highest-placed athlete at PyeongChang 2018 was Vincent Kriechmayr in seventh. Sochi 2014 gold medallist Matthias Mayer, also of Austria, finished ninth, meaning no athlete has ever won back-to-back golds in the men's downhill.
The downhill course is 2,852 metres in length, with a vertical drop of 825 metres, so is much shorter and less steep than some on the World Cup circuit. That meant precise skiing was particularly important, because of the difficulty of making up time.
Beat Feuz (Getty Images)
“It feels pretty good. I’m extremely happy,” said Svindal. “It’s one of those things where you keep looking up the hill because you want to make sure it’s real, like no one comes and skis faster.”
Svindal’s win made him the first man to have won both the downhill and super-G gold medals at the Olympic Winter Games. He has also overtaken Austrian Mario Matt, who won slalom gold at Sochi 2014 at the age of 34, as the oldest Alpine skiing gold medallist.
“I think that’s something you think about afterwards, but right now it’s just the emotions when you cross the finish line and you see that you’re ahead. That’s bigger than any record.”
Jansrud was satisfied with his silver medal. “I knew I had to do something special today to catch up and it almost worked out according to plan,” he said. “I think I lost too much time at the bottom against Aksel but I’m still very happy.”
Feuz was gracious in acknowledging Norway’s success. “I’m really proud to have got this medal,” he said. “To lose to these two Norwegians is not a problem – they have been on top for years. Aksel has been hurt several times and he’s still extremely dangerous.”