By Simon Evans
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (Reuters) - Defending overall World Cup champion Aksel Lund Svindal has had a bad beginning to the ski-racing season but hopes to kick-start his Olympic gold bid at a venue which evokes strong memories.
The Norwegian injured his knee in training in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and failed to finish the season-opening giant slalom a week later in Soelden.
Then the three-times world champion skipped the races in Levi, Finland, and opted to do his rehabilitation and fitness work in Miami before returning to action in Lake Louise, Canada, last week.
"It's not a whole lot of fun hanging out in Oslo when everyone else is going skiing. There is kind of a negative vibe about that," Svindal said, explaining his surprise decision to set up camp in South Beach.
Having swapped the Florida sunshine for the chill of the Canadian Rockies last week, the 27-year-old Svindal eased his way back into racing with a 14th place in Super G and a 33rd place in downhill.
Fourth place in Thursday's training for the downhill suggested Svindal was getting closer to the form that has made him the top all-rounder in the sport and should make him a contender at February's Vancouver Olympics.
"I feel it's getting better. I got the right line but I just need to be a little bit more aggressive," Svindal said of his overall form.
The knee, although not yet completely healed, is holding up and Svindal said downhill racing was easier on it than the technical races.
"It hurt a little when I trained for slalom but not too much," he said.
Beaver Creek, which hosts a super-combined, a downhill and a giant slalom from Friday, has dramatically contrasting memories for Svindal.
Two years ago he suffered a horrific crash in training here which put him in hospital and out of action for 10 months.
On his return to the course last year, Svindal triumphed in the downhill and super-G, winning the hearts of local fans and setting himself up for a season in which he reclaimed his overall World Cup crown.
"I prefer to think about last year," said Svindal when asked about past races at the Birds of Prey weighing on his mind.
"I had two great wins here, last year, coming back from injury and I prefer to think about that. But of course, the crash also comes into mind sometimes."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)