To the average ski racing fan – and even most of the men on the World Cup circuit – Aksel Lund Svindal seems superhuman.
The Norwegian racer is a two-time overall winner, has 43 World Cup podiums – 18 of those victories – six world championship medals as well as three Olympic medals.
Over the weekend, he pulled off a rare sweep of the downhill and super-giant slalom races in Lake Louise, Alta., crushing the competition by huge margins and leaving them scrambling to figure out how he did it.
But as the skier, who turns 30 next month, was still riding high on adrenalin Sunday, he reflected on the time five years ago when he wasn’t so invincible.
He was on a similar high in 2007, claiming both the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, followed by super-G in Lake Louise when he rolled into the Beaver Creek, Colo.
But during downhill training, he pushed the limits, lost his balance, and suffered a horrifying crash that left him with broken bones in his face and gashes so deep through his buttocks after his body careened over razor sharp skis, that he required abdominal surgery.
His season was finished.
“I came to Beaver Creek feeling like Superman,” Svindal recalled. “I think [I was] almost a second ahead of everyone on the first training run, which is unnecessary because it’s a training run, but I went down hard and when I hit the fence I was not so much Superman any more.”
A year later he came back and won both the downhill and the super-G races at Beaver Creek.
“That’s when everybody takes a step back and really takes notice,” said racer John Kucera of Calgary. “That’s very special. You don’t see a lot of that. It’s hard to execute that kind of stuff, but I guess the best do.”
Kucera, who hasn’t raced a World Cup since 2009, when he badly broke a leg at Lake Louise and looks to Svindal for inspiration, stormed back onto the circuit over the weekend with an impressive 14th place finish in the super-G.
It was Svindal, however, who found the perfect line and ripped down the speed course in 1 minute 34.96 seconds, almost a full second ahead of the competition.
Second was Adrien Théaux of France, who was 0.85 seconds behind, and third went to Joachim Puchner of Austria, who was 0.90 seconds off the pace.
On Saturday, Svindal won the downhill in 1 minute 48.31 seconds, beating Austria’s Max Franz, who was 0.64 seconds back, and tied for third were Klaus Kroell of Austria and Marco Sullivan of the United States, who were 0.66 seconds behind.
Disappointed with his own performance in the downhill, Puchner prepared for the super-G by watching Svindal’s race video. So did Théaux.
Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., who posted the best showing of the Canadian team with a sixth in the downhill and 11th in the super-G, said Svindal’s performances will also be homework for the Canadians.
“He’s got the magic touch right now,” Guay said.
Alpine Canada aims to capture five podiums this season and a world championship medal, but left Lake Louise empty-handed. Also in the super-G were Jan Hudec (18th), Dustin Cook (28th), Jeffrey Frisch (31st) and Ben Thomsen (34th).
“We should be aiming a little bit higher right now,” Guay said. “I think we should be charging for the podium.”
Alpine Canada president Max Gartner remains optimistic: “Hopefully the guys are going to get some momentum as the season progresses.”
But Svindal is the man to beat.
“He’s in a different world right now than the other guys and he knows it,” Hudec said. “And when you are in that phase, there’s not a whole lot that can stop you, except for a crash.”
What’s Svindal’s secret? Hard work, training, finely tuned equipment and mostly, confidence.
“It seems impossible when you’re not there,” Svindal said. “But believe me, I’ve been out of that and trying to get there.”