(Writes through at end of event)
* Svindal set to give Norway first downhill gold
* Leading Jansrud in Norwegian 1-2
* Swiss Feuz set for bronze
By Nick Mulvenney
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Aksel Lund Svindal threw his battered body down the Jeongseon slope in thrilling style to cap a brilliant career with Norway’s first Olympic downhill gold medal on Thursday, becoming the oldest Alpine skiing champion in the history of the Games.
The 35-year-old’s team mate Kjetil Jansrud celebrated with Svindal as the backrunners continued to come down the course after taking silver for a Norwegian 1-2, while world champion Beat Feuz took bronze for Switzerland.
Norwegians, including Svindal in 2010 and Jansrud in 2014, have finished on the podium in five of the last six Olympic downhills but none had previously claimed the biggest prize in Alpine speed racing.
A year after undergoing the latest in a succession of operations on his beaten body, though, Svindal stormed down the bottom half of the Jeongseon piste to erase the anomaly in one minute, 40.25 seconds.
Jansrud’s loss of control on the final jump probably cost him the gold as he finished 0.12 seconds behind his team mate in 1:40.37 with Feuz third in 1:40.43.
After nearly a week of high winds wreaking havoc with the Alpine skiing schedule, the blue riband event of the programme finally got underway four days late in almost perfect conditions.
The course, designed by 1972 Olympic champion Bernhard Russi, was supposed to be easier than some of the classic downhill runs but with little room for error.
Error-free skiing is Feuz’s stock in trade and although he trailed pace-setter Dominik Paris at the top of the run, he built up speed in the mid section and raced home to lead.
Svindal, though, showed that five days of polishing from gale force winds had sped up the run, and he was able to take a wide line on one corner and survive a minor wobble through one of the jumps and still be competitive at the top.
His creaking, much-reconstructed knee was up to the task and he powered through the bottom half of the course in his trademark style to knock Feuz off the top of the timesheets.
“He showed at the bottom, where he is strength is, in the high-speed turns, to keep the speed, that is why he is number one,” Norway Alpine team director Claus Ryste told reporters.
“For us in Norway this is our first downhill gold medal and so it is a historic day in many ways.”
Jansrud’s run was almost the polar opposite to his compatriot’s as he attacked the top section with relish to take tenths of seconds off Svindal’s time, only to lose control at the death.
The 32-year-old knew he had blown it and his body language after crossing the line contrasted starkly with a visible sigh of relief from Svindal waiting under the scoreboard.
Sochi gold medallist Matthias Mayer of Austria finished well off the pace in ninth, continuing the ‘curse’ of the downhill which has seen not one skier repeat as champion in the 70 years of Olympic competition.
Svindal was a popular winner with his rivals.
“I think there is no bigger role model than Svindal,” said German Thomas Dressen, who moved into title contention after a World Cup win in Kitzbuehel last month but finished fifth.
“I think it’s incredible what he’s achieved.” (Editing by Sudipto Ganguly and John O‘Brien)