A surging Lindsey Vonn finds respite on the slopes
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – Lindsey Vonn remains on top of her game despite the turmoil in her life.
She dominated at Lake Louise last weekend, winning two World Cup downhills and a super G by a combined margin of 3.82 seconds – a landslide in skiing.
Her success comes in the midst of divorce proceedings from her husband of four years, Thomas Vonn, who also served as her adviser and personal coach.
But if the tumult is affecting her, Vonn certainly isn’t showing it on the slopes.
Now, the Olympic gold medalist returns to the comfort of home as she races in a rescheduled super G on Wednesday at Beaver Creek. The Birds of Prey course is just five minutes from her place in Vail.
“I really would love to win at home, so I’m going to look at the video and make sure in Beaver Creek that I clean some turns up and make sure I’m skiing a little more aggressive than I skied (Sunday),” Vonn said.
That performance is going to be difficult to top. She crushed it in Lake Louise, winning her 11th race on that hill. So commanding has Vonn been at the venue that it’s now kiddingly become known as Lake Lindsey.
With her three-day sweep, Vonn now has 45 career wins, leaving her one behind Austria’s Renate Goetschl for third on the career list.
“This whole weekend I had a huge smile on my face,” Vonn said.
A reprieve from what has been going on away from the slopes.
Vonn announced her split Nov. 27, the same day she withdrew from a slalom in Aspen. She cited a back injury during training.
Many wondered how she would fare without Thomas Vonn, who had become a rock in her life. He made sure she wasn’t overextending herself with appearances and interviews, helped with logistics and kept everything running smooth so Vonn could keep her focus on speeding down the mountain.
A network of family, friends, coaches, teammates and even competitors has now stepped in and supported her through a difficult time.
She also has this – the slopes.
Skiing has always been her sanctuary, a place where she can retreat and forget about whatever is troubling her for a little while.
“It’s where I go to be myself and to really enjoy life,” Vonn said. “Up in Lake Louise, it was perfect timing for me to go up there to do what I love and ski fast. I just was focused. It took my mind off everything else.
“This whole season is going to be a great chance for me to look at myself from a different perspective and to really learn more about myself. Skiing is just my happy place.”
Last weekend was more than Vonn could have ever imagined. She won a downhill Friday by 1.95 seconds, her largest margin in that discipline. And with her win Sunday, Vonn earned the second three-day sweep of her career. She also had a hat trick at Haus im Ennstal, Austria, in January 2010.
“I think I proved to myself and everyone else that I can ski well under the most extreme circumstances,” Vonn said. “It just gives me more personal strength.”
With her performance in Lake Louise, Vonn also extended her lead in the World Cup standings to 422 points, opening a sizable gap on top rival Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who ended Vonn’s reign as overall champion last season.
Once close friends, the bond between Hoefl-Riesch and Vonn became strained last season when Hoefl-Riesch blamed Vonn for not congratulating her on the overall victory.
Steadily, their relationship is on the mend. They began ironing their differences out in New Zealand during preseason training and chatted again in Lake Louise, which brought them even closer.
“We wanted to be back as friends the way we used to be,” Vonn said. “We wanted to put everything aside and start over again. It’s been really great to have her support through all my personal struggles. She’s definitely been extremely supportive.”
Vonn’s elated over having a super G basically in her backyard. The race was moved to Beaver Creek because of a lack of snow in Val d’Isere, France. There’s also a men’s giant slalom Tuesday and a men’s slalom Thursday.
The 27-year-old Vonn has never really raced on the hill, but did side-slip the course during the 1999 championships when she was a teenager. The only U.S. female skier who really has taken a race-related run on the course is Resi Stiegler, a forerunner for the men’s super-G in 2007.
And while being at home will be a boost for Vonn, it will also be a weight.
“For me, the hardest thing about this race is the pressure and trying to do well for the home crowd,” Vonn said. “I always put a lot of pressure on myself anyway. I’m probably going to put too much pressure on myself to do well for everyone.”
Vonn isn’t the only skier entering the super G on a roll. Teammate Julia Mancuso finished third in Lake Louise on Sunday. Like Vonn, Mancuso is eager to attack the course.
“The hill looks really challenging so I think it will be a lot of fun,” Mancuso said. “Watching the men’s race, it was very turny, steep and always moving – and that’s the kind of hill I like.”
Same with Vonn. Although, just about every hill seems to suit her these days. She also won the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria.
Vonn laughed when asked if she gave any thought to sweeping all of the speed events this season, especially in light of her stellar showing at Lake Louise.
“There are a lot more races left to go,” she said. “Of course, that would be incredible to be able to do something like that.
“Right now, my biggest focus is Beaver Creek and trying to win at home. There’s so much going on in my life right now. I’m taking it one step at a time.”
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American giant slalom stud Ted Ligety won six times at Birds of Prey, be it five World Cups and/or gold in the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, but we have to remember what a struggle it was for him to get there.