Norway’s Svindal wins gold in Olympic men’s downhill

'Attacking Viking' Aksel Lund Svindal claimed gold in the blue riband event of the Olympic alpine skiing programme, the men's downhill, on Thursday in a thrilling Norwegian one-two.

Norway's Svindal wins gold in Olympic men's downhill
Aksel Lund Svindal, Kjetil Jansrud and Beat Feuz on the podium at Jeongseon. Photo: Cornelius Poppe / NTB scanpix

Svindal, 35 and coming to the end of a stellar career, clocked a time of 1 minute, 40.25 seconds down the three-kilometre long Jeongseon course to hand Norway its first ever Olympic downhill gold. He also became the oldest ever alpine skiing gold medallist.

“It feels pretty good. I'm extremely happy,” said Svindal. “World Cup wins, I've been there a few times and know how that feels, but this is different.

“It's one of those things where you keep looking up the hill because I want to make sure it's real, like no one comes and skis faster. But this is fine.”

The Norwegian colossus' teammate Kjetil Jansrud claimed silver at 0.12 seconds, with Switzerland's defending world champion Beat Feuz taking bronze (+0.18).

Svindal had predicted that it would be the established downhill skiers who would triumph on a course where many racers said it was easy enough to get down unscathed but very tough to maintain speed and a good line.

And so it proved as a host of the stockier racers adept at maximising speed in the gliding sections also managed slick manoeuvring over a couple of savage jumps that led straight into sharp turns.

The marquee race, postponed from Sunday because of high winds, is known as the ultimate test of raw speed, although the downhill thrills had been somewhat diluted on a course judged too tame by some of skiing's daredevils.

Though it might not have the raw edges of Kitzbuehel's dreaded Hahnenkamm, the toughest run on the World Cup circuit, racers still touched motorway-coasting speeds of 125 kilometres per hour and launched themselves upwards of 40 metres on a couple of the jumps.

The boisterous crowd of a few thousand, including a vociferous Norwegian group of fans clanging bells, blowing horns and waving flags, were left gasping as the racers came down the sun-kissed course, carved into an ancient forest in a remote South Korean valley once known for its ginseng cultivation.

Predictions of a close race with the slightest deviation off line likely to be catastrophic for a podium look-in proved correct.

Svindal, who has won two World Cup downhills and one super-G this season, skated aggressively out of the start gate, reaching 100 km/h in under 10 seconds.

He fell behind Feuz's second and third intermediate times after going wide on the first jump, but regrouped in the final run-in with a powerful display befitting a racer who won a medal of each colour in the 2010 Vancouver Games before flopping in Sochi.

A breathless Svindal suffering thigh-muscle burn pumped the air as he swept into the finish area, a quick look at the leader board showing his name above that of Feuz.

With bib number seven, Svindal then had to endure a nerve-wracking wait as the rest of his rivals came down, notably Jansrud, who maintained Norway's grip on the super-G with gold in Sochi alongside downhill bronze.

Then came the Austrian quartet, including defending Olympic champion Matthias Mayer, between bib numbers 11 and 17.

Mayer, however, went wide once and paid the immediate price, his disappointment obvious as he finished ninth, 1.21 seconds off Svindal's pace.

And there was to be no dream Norwegian podium sweep as the third of the Attacking Vikings, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, made a mistake halfway down after posting the fastest times up until then, eventually finishing 15th.

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Norwegian Winter Olympics superstar Marit Bjørgen to retire

Norway's legendary biathlete Marit Bjørgen, who won a record eighth gold medal at the Winter Olympics in February, on Friday said she would call it quits at the age of 38.

Norwegian Winter Olympics superstar Marit Bjørgen to retire
Norwegian biathlon legend Marit Bjørgen. Photo: Berit Roald / NTB scanpix

“I don't feel I have the motivation required to give 100 percent for another season, that's why I'm quitting,” she told public broadcaster NRK.

“I thought it would be easier to say. I'm emotional. It has been an epoch in my life, over 20 years. So it's a bit special to say that this is my last season as an elite athlete,” she said.

Bjørgen underlined her status as an all-time great in the sport at the games in Pyeongchang, South Korea earlier this year, when she grabbed a record-extending 15th Winter Olympics medal, winning the 30km cross country to put Norway top of the final medals table.

The Olympian had earlier become the most successful winter games competitor of all time by finishing third in the team sprint free.

Her bronze with Maiken Caspersen Falla put her on 14 Olympic medals, outstripping fellow Norwegian Ole Einar Bjørndalen, who has 13 in the biathlon.

Bjørgen is also the second most successful woman at either the Summer or Winter Games, trailing only Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina with 18 medals.

She was showered with tributes from fellow athletes, and politicians, after the news broke on Friday.

“She was terribly important to me, she was my idol,” said Therese Johaug, a seven-time world champion and former Olympic gold medallist who was suspended after failing a drug test.

“You have been a source of inspiration and a role model, you made us jump with joy and scream with excitement,” former Norwegian Prime Minister and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on his Twitter account.

Bjørgen claimed her first World Cup victory in Dusseldorf in October 2002 and her first Olympic medal (silver) in Salt Lake City the same year.

She gave birth to her first and only son, Marius, in 2015.

Norway, a country of 5.2 million people, enjoyed a barnstorming Winter Olympics, breaking the United States' 2010 record of 37 medals at a single winter games.

Bjørndalen, the most decorated male Winter Olympian in history, also announced his retirement this week, saying he would quit at the end of the season at the age of 44.

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