Aksel Lund Svindal: 0.02 seconds from glory — Norwegian second in his final downhill race

In the final race of his career, Aksel Lund Svindal made sure his last downhill was a knee-knocking thriller.

Only 0.02 seconds separated the Olympic downhill champion from his teammate Kjetil Jansrud who took gold, crossing the line in 1:19.98 in difficult conditions.

There was a moment during his run, with the snow falling and fog reducing visibility, that Svindal nipped ahead of race leader Jansrud and looked on course for a third world downhill title, but a wobble in the middle section set him back and the 36-year-old had to settle for silver, just as Jansrud did when Svindal took Olympic gold last year.

Arms aloft, the Norwegian, the sentimental favorite, closed his eyes and looked up to the white sky and savored the applause near the finish line for one last time. Norwegian flags popped up like toast with his compatriots having traveled to the Swedish resort of Are in numbers to show their appreciation to one of their country’s biggest sports stars.

After a 17-year career which has included four Olympic medals and the overall World Cup title in 2007 and 2009, Svindal retires as one of the greats of the devil-may-care downhill event.

But competing in such an demanding event has also taken its toll on the Norwegian’s body. He tore both his ACL and meniscus in a fall in 2016 and though he did return last year to become the oldest skier to win Olympic gold with victory in the downhill at Pyeongchang he has not been able to train as he would have wished these last few years.

The race had been delayed by an hour because of fog but Kjetil, sixth out of the gates, raced the conditions perfectly, setting a time no-one could beat with Svindal second and Austria’s Vincent Kriechmayr (+0.33) in third.

Beat Feuz, aiming to become the first man to successfully defend the downhill title since fellow Swiss Bernhard Russi won in 1970 and 1972, was fourth, +0.44 behind Kjetil.

Though Svindal no doubt would have preferred to have ended his career with a victory which would have made him the first man to win the downhill world title three times, the Olympic champion nevertheless merrily smiled with his friend and teammate Kjetil as the pair waited near the finish line for confirmation of their placings.

Norwegian fans boisterously cheered every time the pair appeared on the big screen, while Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway were also watching on as Svindal’s racing career came to a conclusion.

The pair even took selfies, while fellow racers such as Mikaela Shiffrin paid tribute to Svindal on social media.

“What a career,” tweeted Shiffrin, the two-time Olympic champion who took gold in Tuesday’s super-G in Are.

More to follow…

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