Svindal wins Olympic downhill to become oldest Alpine winner

Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal skis during the men's downhill at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Jeongseon, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

JEONGSEON, South Korea (AP) Aksel Lund Svindal became the oldest Olympic gold medalist in Alpine skiing by winning the men’s downhill on Thursday at the Pyeongchang Games.

The 35-year-old Norwegian was 0.12 seconds faster than teammate Kjetil Jansrud down the 1 4/5-mile (2.9-kilometer) course. Beat Feuz of Switzerland took bronze, 0.18 behind Svindal’s winning time of 1 minute, 40.25 seconds.

In what he said was most likely his last Winter Games, Svindal finally got the only downhill honor missing from his resume.

”That’s probably my last Olympics, so it’s a good thing I could be fast,” said Svindal, who had season-ending surgery the past two years. ”It’s basically the first year I have skied in February in four years.”

The race started in near-perfect calm and cold conditions four days after it was postponed because of fierce winds that made racing unsafe. It was 34 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) under sunshine and blue skies with only a few wispy clouds.

In a race that often has a surprise winner, the new Olympic champion has been the most consistent downhill racer over the past decade despite a series of severe injuries. In fact, the three medalists were the most touted pre-race favorites. Jansrud took downhill bronze four years ago and Feuz is the current world champion.

Svindal got silver in downhill at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where he won a medal of each color, and was fourth at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He also won world championship gold medals in downhill in 2007 and 2013.

Now, after turning 35 in December, he is three months older than Mario Matt was in 2014 when the Austrian won the Olympic slalom. The oldest Olympic medalist in Alpine racing is Bode Miller, who was 36 when he took bronze in super-G at the Sochi Games.

Svindal excelled on the bottom half of the Jeongseon course after some uneasy moments early in his run.

The snow conditions seemed faster than in training runs, and Svindal worked hard to find the best racing line. He took a tight angle across a tricky side hill, went wide at one turn, and fought through the air off one big jump.

The big Norwegian trailed Feuz by 0.23 at halfway but then mastered the lower section. Svindal punched his left arm air in the finish area upon seeing the clock and the green light next to his name. The only time in the race he had led was the one that mattered.

Jansrud started three minutes later on a course where he won the only previous downhill, an Olympic test event on the World Cup circuit two years ago when Svindal was injured.

Ahead at four straight time checks, Jansrud’s lead steadily dropped from 0.43 and he was twisted sideways in midair before landing one jump. He still had 0.04 in hand heading into a twisting approach to the final jump. Jansrud threw his head back in anguish when he saw his time.

Anticipating a great day for Norway, the Scandinavian nation’s crown prince, Haakon, came to Jeongseon and watched the race at the finish area.

Feuz, the in-form downhiller in 2018, was unbalanced early in his run. Racing before the Norwegians, he smiled wryly for the television cameras at the finish and wiggled his right hand as if acknowledging his leading time would not hold up.

No man has ever retained the Olympic downhill title and defending champion Matthias Mayer’s chance was gone soon after halfway. The Austrian racer finished 1.21 behind Svindal in ninth place.

More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

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