Lindsey Vonn finds new challenger for downhill title |

Lindsey Vonn finds new challenger for downhill title

Andrew Dampf
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Lindsey Vonn, of the United States, celebrates her second place in a alpine ski, women's World Cup downhill race, in Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009. (AP Photo/Marco Trovati)

CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy ” Lindsey Vonn is heading to the World Championships with a few kinks to remove from her downhill form ” and perhaps a new challenger for her speed crown.

Dominique Gisin of Switzerland won her second straight downhill Saturday, edging Vonn and Anja Paerson in one of the most prestigious races on the women’s World Cup circuit.

Gisin timed 1 minute, 16.98 seconds down the shortened Olympia delle Tofane course. Vonn finished second, 0.15 seconds behind, and Paerson was third, 0.17 back, despite landing a jump awkwardly and injuring her left knee.

Vonn made two significant mistakes in her run, one on the top and one on the bottom. The outcome was similar to what happened at last weekend’s downhill in Zauchensee, Austria, where Vonn finished 0.17 seconds behind joint winners Gisin and Paerson.

“I seem to be having trouble making a clean run,” said Vonn, who wore a specially made red, white and blue racing suit as part of her rotating downhill wardrobe. “I really can’t afford to make those mistakes at the World Championships if I want to get a gold medal in my favorite discipline.”

Paerson is just hoping that her knee won’t prevent her from defending three titles at the worlds, which begin Feb. 3 in Val d’Isere, France.

“At the moment, it’s very stiff and we have a bandage on,” the Swede said. “Hopefully it’s just a big hit on the knee and it’s something we can treat and tomorrow I can be on the start again.”

Gisin’s first career victory in Zauchensee was helped by changing conditions that slowed later starters. On Saturday, conditions held up and no other skier matched Gisin on the lower section of the course.

Gisin reduced her gap behind Vonn in the downhill standings to 240-226. This season marks the first in six years that the 23-year-old Gisin has not been injured.

“Honestly, I wasn’t sure she would win again,” Vonn said of Gisin. “The weather was changing in Zauchensee and I have to say I’m pretty impressed with her and I hope she continues to have success, but I hope I manage to stay ahead of her in the standings, because the downhill title is something that means a lot to me.”

Vonn retained the lead in the overall standings with 856 points. Maria Riesch of Germany is next with 810 points and Paerson is third with 762.

Gisin studied to become a military pilot during one of her injury breaks, then turned her focus to physics before dedicating herself entirely to skiing two years ago.

“I liked flying, but I love skiing,” she said. “I wrote a thesis once on the physics and gravity involved in skiing and sometimes I look at curves from different perspectives. Physical power is not the only force involved in skiing.”

Combined with Didier Defago’s victory in the downhill in Kitzbuehel, Austria, on Saturday, the resurgent Swiss team has nine wins this season. Two each from Defago, Daniel Albrecht and Carlo Janka on the men’s circuit, two from Gisin and one from 17-year-old Lara Gut. Only Austria has more with 10 wins.

“We have a good mix of experienced and younger athletes and we’re able to motivate each other,” Gisin said.

The race was run under mostly sunny conditions after a blizzard dumped more than 4 feet of snow on the course earlier in the week. The storm was followed by heavy fog, forcing the cancellation of a second downhill that had been moved from Lake Louise, Alberta.

A giant slalom is scheduled for Sunday and a super-G has been moved to Monday.

Several contenders struggled with a shadowy section midway on the downhill.

Leanne Smith of Conway, N.H., was only 0.10 behind Gisin midway through her run, then skied off course and injured her knee.

Julia Mancuso of Olympic Valley, Calif., finished 30th.

“I made mistakes too,” Vonn said. “It was a good lesson today.”

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