U.S. Ski Team: Older, but just as fast | AspenTimes.com

U.S. Ski Team: Older, but just as fast

Ian CroppVail correspondentAspen, CO Colorado

Lindsey Vonn slices past a gate during a training run Thursday at Keystone's North Peak. Vonn is returning from a knee injury which cut short her 2007 World Cup season. (Mark Fox/Summit Daily)

KEYSTONE, Colo. Meet the U.S. Ski Team’s Lindsey Vonn. She’s pretty much like her old self – Lindsey Kildow – with a few tweaks here and there.Vonn, the former Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athlete, married Thomas Vonn Sept. 29 in Deer Valley, Utah.”Life is pretty much the same as every other day,” Vonn said Thursday at the base of Keystone’s North Peak after a training session. “It’s the same old life for the Vonn’s, as weird as that sounds.”After a great 2007 season cut short by a knee injury, Vonn is back in form for this year’s World Cup campaign.”I think I’m stronger than I’ve ever been before,” Vonn said. “I know I keep saying that every year, but your body matures and you are used to training and weightlifting and it becomes muscle memory. My endurance training has been awesome.”Vonn’s left knee, which she sprained at the end of the 2007 World Alpine Championships, is at 100 percent. And with two silver medals in her pocket from Worlds, the big-race monkey is finally off Vonn’s back.”That was the one thing I had never done – got medals at big events,” Vonn said. “I definitely was able to put a big check mark off on that goal. Now I have that confidence going into the next World Championships and the next Olympics.

“I feel more comfortable and more confident. Things are settling down and I get to do what I love every day.”

Even Vonn’s German is improving. “I feel like I’m breaking into new territory,” she said. “I’m friends with most of the Austrian girls. I like being in that culture. It’s the culture of ski racing, and it’s fun to be able to communicate with so many people.”Last year, Vonn and teammate Julia Mancuso were a constant 1-2 threat in speed races. When she injured her knee, Vonn was second in the super G standings and third in the downhill standings.”I’m really hoping I can get a downhill or super G title this year,” Vonn said. “The overall is always in the back of my mind, but I’m not going to focus on it. I’m just going to try to ski the best I can in speed and get a couple of points in [giant slalom] and slalom and see where that takes me.”

Traditionally, Vonn’s weakest even has been giant slalom, although at the opening race of this season in Soelden, Austria, a giant slalom, she took 13th.”I trained really well this summer and [the International Ski Federation] changed the rules for skis and Rossignol came up with some pretty sick skis. … I think that had a lot to do with it.”While Mancuso hasn’t been in Summit County, where the U.S. Team has been training this week on its exclusive hill at Keystone (used mostly for technical skiing) and at Copper (speed training), her presence will be felt when she arrives.”It’s really sweet to have two people on the same team competing for everything,” Vonn said. “It’s pretty unique.”

“It’s a good, healthy rivalry,” said Alex Hoedlmoser, the U.S. women’s downhill and super G coach. “It’s really nice for us as coaches, for the team, and for the whole country that you have contenders in every event.”With the retirement of Kirsten Clark, Caroline Lalive’s season-ending knee surgery and Vail’s Sarah Schleper taking the year off to have a child, Vonn steps into an even bigger role for the team.”I’m the old married women on the team and I’m 23,” Vonn joked. “It’s kind of crazy. Poor Caroline – I feel awful for her. Our team took a big loss losing her. I’m just going to try to do my best to be the old, married woman and keep the kids in line.”