Vonn and Ligety lead U.S.; Miller comes up empty | AspenTimes.com

Vonn and Ligety lead U.S.; Miller comes up empty

Andrew Dampf
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Ted Ligety, of the United States, shows the bronze medal of the Men's Giant Slalom race, at the World Alpine Ski Championships in Val d'Isere, France, Friday, Feb. 13, 2009. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, Pool)

VAL D’ISERE, France ” Gold medals, parties, injuries, crashes.

That’s what these world championships were all about for Lindsey Vonn, the American ski star who won two golds, needed surgery for a thumb injury caused by a broken champagne bottle, missed her next race, and then fell in her final one while wearing a splint to protect her thumb.

“It’s definitely had a lot of ups and downs,” Vonn said. “All in all I’m really happy with the way the world championships went. I was able to win at a big event, which has been a goal of mine for a long time. I think I’m on the right track for Vancouver.”

In one year, Vonn, a native of Burnsville, Minn., will likely enter the 2010 Winter Olympics as the U.S. team’s top medal hope ” in all sports.

There probably won’t be too much pressure on Bode Miller in Vancouver ” if he’s still competing next season. The defending overall World Cup champion completed his third consecutive major championship without a medal.

Miller was unlucky in the downhill, when he was slowed by more fog than any other skier, finishing eighth. Then in super-combi, Miller missed out on a certain medal when he straddled a gate in the slalom leg.

“Super-combined was in his pocket. He was skiing aggressive and that stuff happens,” said Forest Carey, Miller’s personal coach. “So yes, it’s been frustrating. Probably more frustrating for us than for Bode, because he’s won world championship medals and it doesn’t affect him at the same level it does the rest of his team.”

Even so, Miller has decided to skip two World Cup races ” a giant slalom and a super-combi ” in Sestriere, Italy, next weekend, saying he will return to the tour in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, in two weeks.

“I wanted a break and I want some warm weather,” Miller told The Associated Press after skiing out in the slalom on Sunday.

This was the first championship for Miller since he broke away from the U.S. Ski Team to train and race on his own. The team’s top star is now Ted Ligety, who won combined gold at the 2006 Turin Olympics.

Ligety picked up a bronze in giant slalom here with a blistering second run that moved him up from ninth after the opening leg.

Ligety was also plagued by ups and downs. After falling in the super G ” and sliding downhill on his backside for several hundred yards ” he was disqualified from the super-combi because his binding was 0.15 millimeters too high.

In the slalom, Ligety went out almost as soon as he started his second run.

“It’s good in the sense that I at least got a medal, but not really what I had been hoping for,” Ligety said. “A mixed bad, I guess.”

Vonn exceeded her goals with two golds. She opened the championships by winning the super G, was disqualified from the super-combi for straddling a gate in the slalom leg, then bounced back to win her second gold ” the one she wanted most ” in downhill.

The downhill victory celebration turned into chaos when Vonn had trouble opening a champagne bottle and someone else hacked it open with a ski. Vonn didn’t notice the bottle’s jagged edge and severed a tendon when she grabbed it.

“It’s been tough. After I won the second gold I was so happy and then cutting my hand essentially right after that it was so disappointing,” she said.

Vonn jetted to Innsbruck, Austria, for surgery and returned to Val d’Isere a day later. She entered the slalom with a splint protecting her injured right thumb, covered by a glove and loads of duct tape.

Vonn managed to finish second in the first run of the slalom, but fell shortly into her second run because she wasn’t able to properly plant her right pole.

Vonn will now turn her attention to defending her overall World Cup title when the circuit resumes in Tarvisio, Italy, next week. She leads the standings with 1,114 points, 79 ahead of good friend Maria Riesch of Germany.

“The overall title is now my No. 1 goal,” Vonn said. “I think I’m in a pretty good position because from here on out there’s going to be a lot of speed events. I think there’s only two more slaloms, which is Maria’s best event.

“Right now things are looking good, but I have to figure out a solution for my thumb first and keep fighting.”

As for the other Americans, Julia Mancuso extended her disappointing season by failing to finish the super G, pulling up for no apparent reason in the downhill portion of the super-combi, and placing 18th in giant slalom.

Mancuso won the giant slalom at the 2006 Turin Olympics, but has now gone nearly two years without winning a race.

Stacey Cook of Mammoth, Calif., finished ninth in the downhill for her first top-10 result at a major championship, and Jimmy Cochran of Keene, N.H., moved up to 10th in slalom with the fastest second leg.

Resi Stiegler of Jackson Hole, Wyo., returned in the slalom for her first race after a 13-month injury layoff, finishing a respectable 19th.

Stiegler crashed in Lienz, Austria, in Dec. 2007, fracturing her left arm and damaging ligaments in her right knee, plus multiple bruises.

“I’m just so excited to be back,” Stiegler said. “I’m proud of myself for finishing.”

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