"King Aksel" is the great absentee
When one speaks of the speed classics in Val Gardena/Grôden, the name Aksel Lund Svindal has to be mentioned in the same breath. For the Norwegian, the Saslong became something like a personal race track in the course of his career. This year, however, the name of the likeable Scandinavian cannot be found in the starting list - last spring, Svindal announced his retirement attending World Cup events only from the sidelines.
A quick glance at the sporting highlights is enough to showcase the significance of Svindal for the Alpine Ski World Cup: In more than 17 years, the always good-humoured giant has won 36 World Cup victories, two Olympic gold medals and five world championship titles. The two-time overall World Cup winner is undoubtedly one of the most successful athletes of the recent past - and was always regarded as a fair sportsman who, despite his countless successes, stayed grounded and remained a great guy and role model in the entire ski circus.
Svindal’s Saslong Domination
Even more impressive than Svindal's results in the World Cup is his record on the venerable Saslong: The 37-year-old celebrated no less than seven victories in super-G and downhill - record numbers that no other skier can boast at the classic in Val Gardena/Gröden. That is why the Norwegian has been celebrated as the "King of the Saslong" in recent years and has always been called the one to beat in the fight for the podium. Svindal's great preference for the speed competitions in South Tyrol also meant something special for the Scandinavian himself: "Val Gardena/Gröden is unique and for me always one of the highlights of the skiing winter. Since my debut in the fast disciplines - that was in 2002 - I've been getting on particularly well with the Saslong and every year I'm looking forward to starting in front of this unique mountain backdrop," he once said. With eight podium places and first place in the eternal Val Gardena/Gröden ranking of best skiers, these statements are hardly surprising.
This year the name Svindal is missing from the list of favorites for the victory on the Saslong. However, it is certain that the success in super-G and downhill will nevertheless include a Norwegian athlete: With Kjetil Jansrud (already nine times on the podium in Val Gardena) and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (winner of the 2018 downhill classic), two Super Elks are among the closest contenders for victory in both races. Even though Svindal's retirement has torn a big gap in the Scandinavians' speed squad, the Norwegians are ready to make history again on the Saslong.