Longines ambassador of elegance: aksel lund svindal

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Aksel Lund Svindal
In a time span of more than a decade, Aksel Lund Svindal has consistently been one of the world’s most engaging and successful athletes. He has been a harbinger of excellence on the race course with nine World Championship medals – including five gold. In the grueling season-long World Cup, he has claimed 11 crystal globes. A great all around athlete who has won in nearly every discipline, his true passion is for the super-G and downhill – clocking intensely high speeds with precision turns.

Few athletes have touched the sport of alpine ski racing like Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway. An engaging personality, Svindal has engaged fans across many nations as a powerful athletic figure and a caring person. While he will turn 36 this December, he remains as competitive as ever and will be a force to be reckoned with at the World Championships in Åre this February. As a Longines Ambassador of Elegance for 11 years, Aksel spoke with us on the eve of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup season. Few athletes have touched the sport of alpine ski racing like Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway. An engaging personality, Svindal has engaged fans across many nations as a powerful athletic figure and a caring person. While he will turn 36 this December, he remains as competitive as ever and will be a force to be reckoned with at the World Championships in Åre this February. As a Longines Ambassador of Elegance for 11 years, Aksel spoke with us on the eve of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup season.
Growing up outside Oslo, I imagine you were on skis early as a child.
I come from a family of skiers – my parents met as ski instructors. Before that they were both racing. I would never have started skiing if my parents didn’t take me as a child – in the local hills around Oslo and at my grandparents cabin at Geilo, three hours drive. They had a cabin the way it used to be with bunk beds and the whole family sharing.
As a young boy growing up in Norway, who inspired you?
I grew up with Lasse Kjus and Kjetil Aamodt as my heroes. They were superstars and, in a way, that felt so far away from what I was doing that I never gave it much thought. But then things happened very fast. When I joined them at a training camp when I was 17, I still had posters of them on the wall. But there I was, sitting around the dinner table, feeling like a 100% worthy member of the team. Still one of the coolest experiences I have ever had! It’s something I try to push in the team today - the feeling of including everyone and making them feel like they are all equally important to the team.
You have a blend of stars on the Norwegian team. In a sport where you are competing against your teammates, how do you maximize the opportunity to work together as a team?
Ski racing is a team sport except for the two minutes you´re competing. If you try to look at it in that perspective it helps the team culture. Each team member needs to firmly believe that they will improve their performance during those two minutes, if they truly cooperate like good teammates. Your own team members might be your strongest competitors. But if everyone believes that an important part of the reason for this is that we work together as a team, we can make it work. But it only works if everyone plays fair and no one tries to be smart and profit more than they share.
As a professional athlete, how have partnerships such as your role as an ambassador for Longines helped you grow as a person?
You want to work with brands and people that share your values. This makes it easier to be a good ambassador. It also helps you be true to your own values. Most people see the end product of a brand – like timepieces for Longines. But an athlete who works with a brand spends a lot of time with the people behind the end product. You build personal relationships and you learn the value behind those relationships. I have worked with Longines for more than 11 years, and I´m sure I´ll have a personal relationship with them also after I retire. Those kind of relationships teach you a lot about fair play in business. In business, as in sports, fair play should be a standard.
The World Cup can be a grueling tour over six months. But you’ve also had the opportunity to visit some amazing places. What are a few of your favorite tour stops?
We visit some amazing places, and it's easy to forget this when you're tuned in on racing. The view from a place like the start house in Wengen, the drive through the Dolomites to get to Val Gardena or seeing how 50,000 people stand in the snow surrounding the race track in Kitzbühel are all great experiences that showcase downhill ski racing. When I’m not in the mountains, I enjoy the ocean – especially in the summer. A peaceful island is the best way to relax right after a long winter!
Aksel, how special was it to come back from injury to win the Kitzbühel super-G?
Kitzbühel is always special – even more so right after a big crash. I was very nervous at the start and very happy with the result. Having the finish area up on the mountain was strange, as there were almost no spectators. But it was also very cool in a way. Because there was less people, you could really identify the people on your team like the coaches who work hard for you on the hill so that you can win races. They were right there and I could spot them almost immediately after crossing the finish line, seeing their emotions and hearing them cheer me on. After some tough races in Kitzbühel, getting a win felt really good.
Åre played a pivotal role in your career with two gold medals in 2007. And it’s been a strong venue for you on the World Cup tour. What are your thoughts as you prepare for your eight World Championships?
I like Åre a lot! It's great to ski in Scandinavia in front of my home supporters. Åre also has a nice vibe. I have a lot of good memories there. Racers tend to like mountains where they are fast and the 2007 World Championships are possibly my best memories!
Fans look to you as an athlete who loves the outdoors and action sports like alpine ski racing. When you’re not training, what are other things you like to do as a part of your lifestyle?
I get very inspired by people with skill and enthusiasm. Teamed up with the right people, I can get interested in almost any subject. So I spend a lot of time away from skiing or sports. One of the fields I have really taken an interest in is entrepreneurship. I’m intrigued by modern companies with technology and a business model that makes it possible to disrupt a market. Just like in sports, it takes extreme performance to build a company.
Winter sports athletes today are increasingly using their platform to advocate for sustainable practices. Can you speak to the importance of the environment to you as an athlete?
Athletes have the possibility of being role models and it's great when that position can be used to advocate for something important like sustainability. I have started a clothing company that puts focus on how garments are made, how they´re used and how they shouldn’t end up as waste, but be upcycled to new products. Our values are that we stand for something more important and bigger than just financial success, hence our name >A (Greater Than A). ‘A’ because it can be anything from A-Team and best grade in school... or my name.
You’ve had one of the most successful careers of any alpine ski racer. Do you still have any specific goals you wish to achieve?
When I look back on what has happened in my career, I find it hard to believe it's been 15+ years. And it's not so much the single moments that stand out, but the total feeling of what I´ve been a part of and what I've experienced as a world class athlete. That is also what I will look for going forward.
Aksel, thank you for spending time with White Season.
Any final thoughts you want to share with fans?
Skiing as great sport – the sport itself, the destinations and the people. A big part of the ‘people’ factor is the atmosphere at the races and the enthusiasm I see in the fans I meet. So thanks to all the skiing fans out there!
race day with
Aksel Lund Svindal
Tens of thousands of spectators will line the fabled Streif in Kitzbühel today. Norwegian superstar and Longines Ambassador of Elegance, Aksel Lund Svindal, will be on the perilous race course for only 1 minute, 30.72 seconds. That minute and a half at speed is the epicenter of what will be a long day on the mountain. It’s super-G Friday at the stylish Austrian resort in the heart of the Tirol.
Alarm rings. Late starting time today at 13:00 due to heavy wet snow. Aksel looks out the window at the snow, checking the weather on his smartphone. In the predawn darkness he has precious few minutes to relax and catch up on life. It is still nearly two hours to sunrise. Time to read a few emails from friends and family. Turn on some tunes. Get a coffee.
Time moves quickly. Aksel hops on a spin bike to get his body moving. It is a grueling tour, even more so when you’re coming back from injury at the age of 35.
The hands of Aksel’s physical therapist dig into his muscles. Pain is part of being an athlete. His mind races back to his crash here two years earlier. He had won the super-G then disaster struck on the Hausbergkante during the Hahnenkamm downhill the next day. His hopes for a crystal globe came to an abrupt close riding a medical stretcher to the finish. “I messed up my knee a little and about to go into surgery,” he wrote on Facebook. “Kinda sucks in the middle of the winter, but that’s life. Ups and downs and just gotta deal with whatever comes.”

A comeback nine months later was short lived. Back under the surgeon’s knife in Oslo in January, missing the World Championships in St. Moritz. But that pain was his motivator. He had returned to Kitzbühel to prove a point.
Radios crackle in the darkness as the ski lifts open. Race workers with backpacks silently shuffle into the Hahnenkamm Gondola cabins, tossing gear onto the floor. Overnight, crews had worked to remove the wet snow from the track. Every available resource was deployed to ensure the race would go on.
Six hours to his start time, over two hours until course inspection. Aksel joins teammates for breakfast. It is relaxed conversation. His team shares a strong bond. Together they sat and awaited word from their coaches about their fate for the day. Race officials have completely moved the race course. The start would be on the Mausefalle, the finish at Oberhausberg – high up on the mountain, out of sight of the traditional finish.
Aksel’s Head skis technician Stefan Berthold walks outside to learn more about the snow – watching the weather, monitoring humidity, taking snow temperatures. Every tiny piece of information represents time for his athlete in the race. This was one of those days where a ski technician earns his keep.
At the Norwegian hotel on the mountain, athletes collected their race equipment, preparing to head to the lifts for warm up on a training course
The competition jury heads up to the start to make its important inspection of the course to ensure all is a go for the scheduled 13:00 start. Riding the gondola, they all knew the magnitude of the decisions they were about to make. As coaches, they were motivated to win. But they also had to protect the integrity of athlete's safety.
Still three hours to start. A lot could change. FIS Men’s World Cup Chief Race Director Markus Waldner brings the jury together. Organizers had done miraculous work on the course. Weather forecasts were optimistic. The decision is made to race.
Radios relay the news. SMS messages light up phones. Aksel looks at his Longines watch. It is getting close to inspection time. In 45 minutes he needs to be at the start. Maybe another warm up run then back to the gondola.
Course inspection as athletes slip down from the start house to visualize every turn, every nuance of the racing line. Aksel slides his training skis down the Mausefalle, slipping sideways on his metal edges to control his speed. In two and a half hours, he will be pointing them straight down the steep pitch.

He descends with his teammates – they inspect together, as a team. Some of them will be vying with him for the win in a few hours. Others look to Aksel as a mentor. He talks with coaches at critical points of the course. Short conversations about strategy. A few jokes to lighten the mood. Towards the finish, American coach Johno McBride gives him a fist bump and talks to him about his race line. Rivals on the course, the Americans and Norwegians are close.
Inspection is a mental game. It is memorizing the course. Sizing up the competition. Feeling the grains of snow on your skis. Eyes looking to the sky for weather. Oblivious to the crowd building down below. It is an unusual course layout due to the weather. Inspection is doubly important today.
Still 90 minutes to start time. Aksel slips across the finish line – a bit of an unusual one, up the mountain below the Oberhausberg. He skis down to his technician Stefan, handing him his skis.
Aksel has nearly 90 minutes until his start. A quick stop back at the hotel then up the gondola to the athlete lounge at the top. Relaxation time. He knows he is prepared. But he is nervous. This is an important day.
Austrian race broadcaster ORF sends a skier down the course with a point of view (POV) camera to show a racer’s perspective. The atmosphere in the finish area is one of tense excitement as race time nears.
First forerunner charges out of the start – young ski racers testing the track to be sure all is safe, dreaming of the day when they have an actual sport on the start list.
The start house clock beeps as the first racer pushes aggressively out of the start and onto the course. It is tough being number one.
The start intervals are one racer every two minutes. Aksel’s teammate and friend, Kjetil Jansrud, starting seventh, attacks the course to take the lead, disappointing the fans as Austrian Hannes Reichelt drops to second by a mere seven hundredths of a second.
His start time nearing, Aksel’s serviceman and trainer prepare him. It is a quiet, serious atmosphere. Skis are wiped, boots are cleaned. Click… Click… Aksel snaps into his bindings. A bit more nervousness than usual. It has been two years.
Now it’s time. Aksel slides into the start, placing his poles over the timing wand. A racer can claim precious fractions of a second at the start by rising up with his poles and letting gravity shoot his shins down to open the wand and start the timer.

Down the Mausefalle (Mouse Trap) and into the Steilhang – Aksel is good, but about a tenth of a second off the pace set by his teammate. As he heads into the Karussell his skis come alive. He navigates the technical turns and tucks into the Brückenschuss. His edges slice through the technical turns. His ski bottoms glide like rocket ships on the flat.

He’s in command of the race. Now, it’s a mental game with the unusual super-G finish. Over the Seidlalmsprung jump, into the Lärchenschuss and suddenly, there is the finish. He pumps his first and looks up to the Longines clock on the scoreboard. He is in the lead.
It is a somewhat eerie place with the spectators still well down the mountain. A few coaches await with team bags. Aksel sees Norwegian athletic trainer Lars Mæland and gives him a big hug. There are still plenty of racers to go who could be a threat. But as a veteran athlete, you know when you’ve had a great run.
Racers are still on course, but the top-seeded athletes are finished. Aksel is the race winner. The race will continue, but an impromptu podium photograph is setup in the finish area. He talks to media admitting he had felt the tension of returning to Kitzbühel, but is smiling at the result.
Back to the hotel, it is time to recover from the day on the spin bike. Teammates come by to congratulate him. He takes calls and SMS messages from friends. Today was a special day. But there is more to come with the downhill just 20 hours away.
Coaches gather in the Kongresszentrum for the night Team Captains’ Meeting where FIS Men's World Cup Chief Race Director Markus Waldner runs through the informational program which coaches will relay that evening to athletes.
Friday night in Kitzbühel is a chaotic scene. In anticipation of Saturday’s downhill, thousands of fans are descending on the Tyrolean village. Aksel is escorted to the Zielhaus, located adjacent to the main finish area. There he will receive his award for the super-G victory as well as joining the public presentation for the Hahnenkamm downhill the next day. Aksel will start fifth.
It’s time now to truly get focused on Saturday’s downhill. There’s a brief team celebration in the hotel for Aksel’s victory before dinner. Coaches present competition and weather information and distribute starting numbers to the athletes.
It’s a quiet atmosphere at the hotel now. Time for a last minute talk between Aksel and his serviceman on the game plan, catching up on personal emails and relaxing. Down in the village, the party is just beginning at the fabled Londoner. Norwegian flags wave throughout the town.
Big race again in the morning. Time for sleep. But for just a moment, Aksel reflects on his day. It was a long one. His support team was a big help. Time to savor, just for a fleeting second, the memory of his accomplishment on the Streif.