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BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (Reuters) - Improbably back in action three months after suffering an Achilles tendon injury, Aksel Lund Svindal surprised even himself by placing sixth in the Super-G at the alpine ski world championships on Thursday.
The 32-year-old Norwegian, the 2010 Olympic champion and a five-times gold medallist at the worlds, had arrived at Beaver Creek uncertain as to whether he would be able to compete and he used downhill training on Tuesday as a benchmark.
Happy enough that he was skiing safely, he decided to start the first men's event in the two-week program and, as the 14th racer, briefly took the lead with a time of one minute 16.05 seconds before being eclipsed by Frenchman Adrien Theaux.
"I am really happy," the two-time overall World Cup champion told reporters after producing a storming run over the bottom portion of the Birds of Prey piste. "I am rusty but I haven't forgotten about everything obviously.
"I still had good speed and coming down and seeing that green light (to signal he had taken the lead) ... I didn't think I would win because I did too many bad turns but I was pleasantly surprised by the green light. It was a lot of fun."
Svindal tore his left Achilles in October while playing soccer during a training session and his doctors said he was unlikely to be ready for the 2015 world championships.
However, Svindal put in a lot of hard work and by the time he completed his first session of downhill training in the Vail Valley, he knew he was fit enough to push out of the start hut.
"The expectations coming in were to do a downhill training run and then just see if I should go home or stay here," he said.
"On the downhill training run, I didn't ski awesome but I felt safe at least and then today I figured I had nothing to lose, just see what happens.
"A lot of hard work and then no bad luck, is the way I like to look at it," Svindal said of his performance on Thursday. "I don't expect good luck but I just try to stay away from bad luck."
Svindal will now switch his focus to the men's downhill, scheduled for Saturday.
"I was only fifteen hundredths (of second) out (of a podium) today so there is always hope," he said of his downhill prospects.
Editing by Frank Pingue