Winter Olympics: Aksel Lund Svindal ends 70 years of hurt

In claiming the men's downhill and women's giant slalom within hours of each other Aksel Lund Svindal and Mikaela Shiffrin proved the majors are not for mortals.

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway makes his winning run in the mens downhil. Picture: Getty.
Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway makes his winning run in the mens downhil. Picture: Getty.

At 35 and already one of the most successful skiers in World Cup history, Svindal doubled his Olympic gold deposits, becoming the first Norwegian and oldest male to win the downhill ahead of compatriot Kjetil Jansrud and Beat Feuz of Switzerland.

Shiffrin, pictured, also doubled her gold account, but at 22 has it in her gift to become the greatest Alpine Olympian. The American goes again in her favourite event, the slalom and will also contest the downhill and combined.

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The surprise with Svindal was not the late hour at which he filled his boots but that it should take 70 years of Olympic competition for the nation that invented skis to take the sport’s greatest prize. It might have happened in Vancouver eight years ago when he was just 0.07 seconds from adding the downhill to Super G gold.

Then again a year ago he was not sure if he had another race in him after the latest in a series of injuries, a torn meniscus in his knee, required surgery. “It’s emotional, and being in the Olympics and competing for gold and being able to get it, for me at least those feelings are much stronger than any history ever written,” he said.

“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.”

Svindal’s victory was appreciated almost as much by the man he beat. “We gave it all, and that’s what you have to do for your country,” Jansrud said. “They can’t say anything about that [lack of Alpine gold] any more, and we’re going to celebrate that tonight.”

For a woman of such rare pedigree in the technical events, Shiffrin has become increasingly prone to nerves, and as the expectation around her has grown, admits to skiing too conservatively when protecting leads.

Here, under a flawless blue sky, her skiing was suitably pure, beating Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway into second and Italy’s Federica Brignone into third.

“There’s probably 15 girls in giant slalom whose best is good enough to win. I just thought ‘I have to try’. I’ve had so many giant slalom races where I’ve finished first or second in the first run and then I ski slower because I’m trying to protect something.

“The Olympics is not about protecting the lead, it’s about putting your best on the line and you can see what happens. It was incredible to take so much risk in that second run but it’s something I’m trying to do more and more with the World Cup racing.”

Svindal in the Super G and Shiffrin in the slalom could yet be crowned king and queen again today, in what would be another first in terms of consecutive Olympic plunder. You wait 70 years for history to be made, then the very next day…