Great expectations for U.S. skiers in Aspen |

Great expectations for U.S. skiers in Aspen

Jon MaletzThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times

ASPEN Lindsey Vonn is a model employee.The reigning World Cup overall champion will go to great lengths to avoid missing work. Even if it means getting back in the starting gate just six days after being on crutches and little more than one week after severely bruising her left knee during a training fall at Copper Mountain. I wanted to throw [the crutches] out the window, Vonn joked during Fridays U.S. Ski Team news conference in Aspen. It was not fun.Vonn was back on the snow Monday. Two days later, the teams Dr. William Sterett cleared the Vail skier to compete this weekend. That was all the 24-year-old needed to hear.Im the kind of person that doesnt want to miss any race, she said, especially one in the United States.Vonn insists she is healthy, and that hard work during the offseason (when daily training sessions often lasted six hours) has left her well equipped to handle anything thrown at her during a grueling World Cup season. Still, there was doubt in her voice Friday. She was also seen rubbing her left knee multiple times while answering questions. Its not sore right now, she said. Every time I have a false step, I feel a little twinge I try to be careful with it, and Im definitely cautious with it.Its fine. Dr. Sterett wouldnt have cleared me if I wasnt.Even so, Vonn admitted that, had this weekends races been held in some foreign local rather than on home snow no more than 100 miles from her home, she likely would have skipped Saturdays giant slalom. But despite training GS just once since the Oct. 25 season opener in Soelden, Austria, shell be in the field and 15th out of the gate this morning.I have to admit Im a little nervous. Im rusty, she said. Im still going to go out and give 110 percent. Maybe there will be a surprise like Levi [Finland].Vonn topped the field Nov. 15 in Finland to win her first World Cup slalom. She shrugged off the very mention of a repeat Friday, however.I dont know about that, she said with a smile. Im just happy to be here. Its not that I dont care, but its not entirely important to me if I run first or 20th.Im happy to be racing. Thats the bottom line.Teammate Julia Mancuso is setting her sights a bit higher.For me, its a good race if I get top 10 and a great race if I get top five and a dream race to be on the podium, she said. Thats how I look at the day. Im really shooting for a top 10, and if everything comes together and Im skiing well, getting on the podium is the ultimate goal.No U.S. woman has climbed the podium in Aspen since 2004. Still, Mancuso, the reigning Olympic GS champion is confident provided the snow is firm, she said. Crews were working Friday to remove nearly a foot of fresh snow off the course and restore what had been a hard, fast surface in previous days.A win here would be Mancusos first since March 3, 2007.Its really hard going into the season, she said. I havent had very much training and I definitely have moments where I feel really good but Im still looking for the feeling of annihilating.Jim Tracy, the womens head alpine coach, is just hoping his young contingent continues to both improve and to gain confidence.Obviously, we hope to do well. For me its great if all the girls get a second run, he said. Thats first and foremost. Qualifying for a second run is important. It gives you confidence that you can be in the top 30 in the world by qualifying for that second run.

Nate Peterson contributed to this

SATURDAY10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sponsor Village booths open in the Aspen Gondola Plaza10 a.m. Race start for womens giant slalom, first run, on Strawpile ski run1 p.m. Race start for womens giant slalom, final, Strawpile3 to 4 p.m. U.S. Ski Team members sign autographs, Aspen Gondola Plaza7 p.m. Awards ceremony for race winners and presentation of the Bingham Cup, Aspen Gondola Plaza7:30 p.m. Free, outdoor concert featuring Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Aspen Gondola Plaza9 p.m. Fireworks over the Little Nell run on Aspen MountainSUNDAY10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sponsor Village booths open in the Aspen Gondola Plaza10 a.m. Race start for womens slalom, first run, Strawpile1 p.m. Race start for womens slalom, final, StrawpileCheck for race coverage on Saturday and Sunday.

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