Lindsey Vonn takes few risks in first downhill training run since injury
CORTINA D'AMPEZZO, Italy — Lindsey Vonn skied conservatively in the first World Cup downhill training session of her injury-delayed season on Thursday.
In foggy conditions, Vonn placed 10th, 0.76 seconds behind leader Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway, and was a bit shaky landing the final jump on the Olympia delle Tofane course.
"I was really happy to be back in the starting gate. I was a little bit nervous — a couple more butterflies than normal," Vonn said. "I didn't take any risks. I was a little bit round and conservative but I skied cleanly and for the most part executed the line the way I wanted to. The last jump is a little bit of a kicker."
Vonn, who injured her left knee in November, will return to competition in downhill races on Friday and Saturday, followed by a super-G on Sunday. She plans to retire next season.
The American needs five more wins to break the all-time victories record of 86 held by Swedish standout Ingemar Stenmark. Vonn already holds the record of 12 wins in Cortina.
Tamara Tippler of Austria placed second in training, 0.06 seconds behind Mowinckel, and Romane Miradoli of France was third, 0.39 back. There were several delays due to the fog.
"I had a lot of fun but I was a little surprised after Tofana (a chute between two massive walls of rock) how much air I got, and I was just getting my bearings for a minute after that," Vonn said. "I skied a little bit too round in that section but otherwise it was kind of just business as usual. … By the bottom I felt better."
During her eight days of skiing to prepare for these races, Vonn focused exclusively on super-G with one day of super-G on downhill skis.
"So I haven't really gotten up to the speed in two months," she said. "It was fun to go fast again."
Vonn did not start the second training session later Thursday, and she wasn't concerned about a forecast for overnight snow — even though her comeback was already delayed a week when nine feet (three meters) of snow forced the cancellation of last weekend's races in St. Anton, Austria.
"It's not going to snow that much," Vonn said. "I've seen Cortina have a meter of snow and have a race so I am not concerned about that. My concern is just getting my knees iced up and getting prepared for the race tomorrow. That's all that's on my mind. I know that we're going to have a race tomorrow."
Reaction to Vonn's return was mixed.
"I race against time and against (the) course, so if she's here or not or if anyone is missing or not it doesn't really change a lot," said Slovenian rival Ilka Stuhec, the reigning downhill world champion who won back-to-back speed races in Val Gardena last month.
Added Mowinckel, who won the Olympic downhill silver medal, one spot ahead of Vonn, "She's a big icon here so it's cool to have her back. … That's the best part, when all the competitors can be there in races."
Several skiers fell in the second training run, which was held amid snowfall and thicker fog.
Ester Ledecka, the Czech skier-snowboarder who won the Olympic super-G, lost control and slid down the hill for a ways then got back up and finished her run. She said she was not injured.
Swiss racer Jasmine Flury and Ricarda Haaser also crashed.
Corine Suter of Switzerland led the second session, 0.27 ahead of Cornelia Huetter of Austria and 0.36 ahead of Stuhec.
ESTER LEDECKA CHOOSES TO SKI AT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
CORTINA D'AMPEZZO, Italy — After months of agonizing over a decision she would have preferred not to have to make, skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka has finally chosen to compete in the Alpine skiing world championships next month instead of the snowboard worlds.
The Czech athlete who won golds in skiing and snowboarding at the Pyeongchang Olympics last year had to make the choice since the parallel giant slalom at the freestyle ski and snowboard world championships in Utah is scheduled for Feb. 4 — the same day that downhill training opens at the skiing worlds in Are, Sweden, and a day before the super-G race there.
"I go skiing," Ledecka said on Thursday following a World Cup downhill training session.
"I would like to go (to) both but I had to make a choice and I made it and I'm looking forward to it. … The way I have the schedule right now it makes more sense for me.
"The decision had to be made and this is the life."
At the Pyeongchang Olympics, Ledecka followed her super-G victory in Alpine skiing by winning the parallel GS in snowboarding — becoming the first athlete to win two golds at the same Winter Games using two different types of equipment.
Ledecka won a snowboard race in Cortina a month ago on the course in Faloria. With downhill races scheduled on Friday and Saturday followed by a super-G on Sunday, she'll now be competing on the other side of the valley on the Olympia delle Tofane course.
"It's weird because I really think about the speed in different ways when I have a snowboard and when I have skis," Ledecka said. "When I have a snowboard and I ride faster you feel it more, you feel more fast. … And here you should get really fast to feel like, 'OK, now it's running.'"
Ledecka fell in the second downhill training session but got back up uninjured and continued her run. She was later fined 500 Swiss Francs ($500) by the International Ski Federation for continuing to ski after a crash.
"She had the feeling that she didn't completely stop," said Tomas Bank, Ledecka's coach. "Now she understands that there are security reasons. She's a racehorse so she always tries to finish."
Having already won two world titles in snowboarding, Ledecka considered an attempt to duplicate that success at the Alpine worlds was attractive.
"I would like to try to have some nice results on skis as well, and to try Are because it's a nice hill and I really liked it there,'" said Ledecka, who finished 11th in the downhill at World Cup finals in Are last March — after placing second in downhill training. "It's a good decision."
Ledecka said she will compete in the super-G, downhill "and maybe super-combined" in Are: "I already made three runs on slalom skis so I will be quite well prepared."
After the Alpine worlds, Ledecka will return to the snowboard World Cup.
Ledecka appealed to the FIS to change competition schedules to make it possible for her to compete in both worlds, and the governing body said it tried to help.
FIS secretary general Sarah Lewis told The Associated Press: "Whatever had been possible would have been done but unfortunately with the logistics involved in the whole setup it wasn't possible. It wasn't without significant efforts."
The worlds in Utah involve four different ski areas and parallel snowboard racing shares the same Park City venue with halfpipe, slopestyle and big air events.
"There isn't the capacity to double it up and have everything going on at the same time," Lewis said.
"It's a very, very complex setup there. There are 28 events on the program. It's a huge event. With morning and evening events and logistics," Lewis said. "Crossing over from one championship to another, it's obviously unique and never happened before."
Lewis added that the next snowboard worlds will be in China in March 2021, a month after the Alpine championships in Cortina.
"Then there will probably be a new problem that it will clash with the World Cup," Lewis said.
Added Ledecka, "It will happen again. I'm afraid so. But I will fight."