BORMIO, Italy (AP) — A consistent contender. A spokesman for his sport. And a survivor of both serious injury and tragedy.
When it comes to Alpine ski racing, Aksel Lund Svindal has it all. "He's a gentleman, he's a class act, he's everything you could want in that sort of spokesperson," Canadian rival Erik Guay said. "We're definitely lucky to have him."
Personable, intelligent and an effective communicator in multiple languages, the tall Norwegian embraces his role as skiing's version of Roger Federer. Rarely do other skiers spend more time speaking with the media at races than he does.
"That comes with it," Svindal said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "If our sport wasn't popular and the athletes didn't help, we wouldn't be able to make a living. So I think it's something that's part of our job."
Ask Svindal about his expectations for next month's Sochi Olympics, and he'll tell you quite matter-of-factly that he can win medals in four different events. "I have really good chances in two events and I have decent chances in the two other events," Svindal said.
The "really good" chances are in downhill and super-G and the "decent" chances are in super-combined and giant slalom. As if his word wasn't good enough, Svindal's recent medal record provides proof. He took home a gold in super-G, a silver in downhill and a bronze in giant slalom from the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Then at last season's world championships in Schladming, Austria, he won gold in downhill, bronze in super-G, was fourth in giant slalom and was on pace for a medal in super-combined until he straddled a gate in the slalom leg.
A two-time overall World Cup winner, Svindal has also dominated the speed events of downhill and super-G on the World Cup circuit for the past two seasons. "Aksel is a professional on all accounts, from physically to his equipment to working hard. His ability to be so professional is remarkable, and that's what makes him so good," U.S. Ski Team men's head coach Sasha Rearick said.
"He doesn't bring the charisma that a Bode (Miller) or a (Didier) Cuche or a Hermann (Maier) does — which the sport does need — but Aksel's style of skiing is extremely solid," Rearick added. "For him to be able to ski as fast as he does is remarkable, because it's nothing special. It's very simple, it's very in the fall line and there are no spectacular recoveries or things like that. ... He's a strong, big guy and he understands what's important to be fast. And that comes from years and years of being professional."
Svindal is just as professional off the hill as he is on it. One of Norway's biggest stars, he keeps track of his investments with the same dedication he uses to inspect an icy super-G course before heading downhill at 70 mph (110 kph).
"I mean I'm good at ski racing, and there are others who are good with money. So I trust other people to do investments for me. But I keep track of what they do," Svindal said. "And I also invest some of the stuff myself. So that's something that interests me.
"Business is kind of like sports — it's very measurable. You can measure it and see if you did good or if you did bad," he added. "And I find that appealing." Appealing enough that the 31-year-old Svindal may enter the business world once his skiing career ends.
"I need to do something that is kind of like that," he said. "What I do now is as cool as it's ever going to get in this world. If I start doing TV or something like that, everything is going downhill. I would rather just go to zero and start going up again."
Coaching isn't in Svindal's future, either. "As long as I'm doing something where people kind of judge you for what you used to be, or your accomplishments, you're kind of just floating on that," he said.
For now, Svindal occupies his free time by following the classic car market. He used to own a 1967 Ford Mustang, now has a '71 Chevrolet pickup truck and is looking to buy an old Porsche. "I like to look around and see what's for sale — how the prices are developing," Svindal said. "I relax when I look at stuff that I'm interested in. And cars are probably my No. 1 interest.
"I used to have a Harley. But I realized I'm more of a car guy," he added. "Driving cars gives me a lot more pleasure." Svindal also feels safer in a car, especially after his nasty fall in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
In 2007, Svindal lost control over a jump and landed on his backside, sliding into a fence. During the fall, one of his razor-sharp skis went over him, leaving a 6-inch laceration of his left buttock. The cut so concerned doctors they went into his stomach to make sure everything internally was still intact.
He also broke his nose in six places. "I have some scars. But the only thing I notice is my nose," Svindal said. "And there are some scars on my face. But those are the only things that I see. My nose is a little crooked."
Svindal also doesn't show much in the way of an emotional scar from the death of his mother when he was eight. After she died from complications of child birth, life went on as normal for Svindal and his younger brother Simen, who is two years younger.
"Because my dad and grandparents and neighbors were so great, we were still able to do all the things we used to do — at least close to it," Svindal said. "We still went skiing. Me and my brothers still went to school like normal. We didn't have a nanny or anything. After school you go to after-school activities. Then grandparents came over a couple of times a week and we went to our neighbors a lot. So because of all of those people, life kind of just rolled along like it had been."
Both of Svindal's parents were ski racers and his mother was on Norway's B team. Svindal's bond with his father, Bjorn, is extremely tight. "I don't know how other people are with their parents but for sure I'm very close to my dad — very close," he said. "If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be where I am.
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