Vonn sets her sights on total dominance
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
COURCHEVEL, France – Lindsey Vonn has troubling news for her rivals – she expects to get even better.
Vonn is off to her best World Cup start, winning five of six races. She is well on the way to reclaiming the overall title she lost by just three points to Maria Hoefl-Riesch last season.
“I’m getting stronger every year, more agile, my body seems to be holding up pretty well so far,” Vonn said Saturday in an interview with The Associated Press at the U.S. team’s hotel in Courchevel. “I feel like there’s still a lot of room for improvement. If you look at the guys and what they’re doing, and how old they are, it’s awesome.”
Vonn’s dominance in downhill is not surprising given that she’s the Olympic champion. But the 27-year-old American has finally cracked giant slalom, winning a first World Cup race in the discipline. Now she’s looking to go after the slalom.
“My GS is by far the best it’s ever been and I know I can continue to improve,” Vonn said, relaxed and smiling before an afternoon workout. “Slalom definitely can still improve. I haven’t had a race yet this year. I feel like my training has gone significantly better than in the last few seasons.”
Her giant slalom win at Soelden in the season’s opening race made her the first American woman to win in all five disciplines. Her sweep in Lake Louise, Alberta, was the first there since Katja Seizinger in 1997. Her super G win last week in Beaver Creek, Colo., was her fourth straight – an American record for men and women.
At Lake Louise, she won two downhills and a super G by a combined margin of 3.82 seconds. But it was the Soelden win that really shaped her season’s ambitions.
“Having my first World Cup victory in Soelden was a perfect way to start the year, and once I got up to Lake Louise I really felt comfortable on my skis,” Vonn said. “So to be able to deal with everything that’s been going on and to have such a great start to the year was a lot more than I expected.”
To become the ultimate skier, Vonn is counting on a more aggressive approach in slalom, a discipline that ultimately cost her last year’s World Cup.
Vonn will get a first look at how much she’s improved in Sunday’s slalom in Courchevel, if it goes ahead. Soft course conditions forced the race to be moved to Sunday.
“I’m optimistic as to what results I’m capable of achieving this year, but slalom is still – at this point – the one event that’s struggling,” she said. “I’ve got my GS to a good point, now slalom is the weakest link.”
Her supersonic start is in sharp contrast to the end of last season, when she narrowly missed on a fourth World Cup title because of the slalom – she finished 13th at Lenzerheide and 16th at Spindleruv Mlyn.
That opened the door for Hoefl-Riesch – previously known as just Riesch before getting married in the offseason – who beat her 1,728 points to 1,725.
“I go over a lot of things. In Are, I lost the super G by one hundredth (of a second). There was a lot of instances last year where I could have done better,” Vonn said. “The whole goal to the start of this season was to really seize every opportunity and not let those chances slip by. My finishing rate (in slalom last season) was terrible.”
One of the keys is to not only figure out what went wrong in the slalom last year, but also learn to forget those mishaps once on the slopes.
“It’s a tricky thing because you still need to learn from those mistakes, but the more you linger on them the worse it is,” Vonn said. “If I’m not confident, I don’t attack the top of the turn, it just ends up to be dumping time every single gate.”
Vonn knows she has sometimes been too cautious in the slalom, particularly when Hoefl-Riesch was pressuring her last season.
“That’s something we’ve been talking about,” U.S. women’s head coach Alex Hoedlmoser said Saturday. “Last year, she was a lot looking at points … and just focusing on Maria.”
“This year, the talk was that she should just be focusing on herself and the races,” Hoedlmoser added. “Even if you pull out of some races, at least you have the chance to get the big points.”
Given her commanding overall World Cup lead, she now has the perfect opportunity to be more adventurous.
“I can just attack in slalom. I have nothing to lose,” Vonn said. “I’ve been able to get enough points in downhill, in super G and GS, where I don’t feel any pressure in slalom now. In the last two seasons I felt like I’ve really had to keep up with Maria and now I’m just going to try and go for a podium, just go all out every time.”
After seven races, Vonn has 522 points. Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg is second at 286, followed by Elisabeth Goergl of Austria with 269. Hoefl-Riesch is miles away on 191.
“Knowing you’re ahead of the other girls by that much, it definitely gives you a sense of comfort,” Vonn said. “I can try to risk everything and try to win in slalom, and I don’t have any fear of missing out on points because I know I can make them back up in downhill and super G.”
Vonn is tied for third with downhill ace Renate Goetschl of Austria with 46 career World Cup wins. Vonn could very well be the leader by the time she’s 30.
After overtaking Goetschl, only Swiss legend Vreni Schneider (55 World Cup race wins) and Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proell (62) will stand in her way.
“The history of skiing is important to me,” Vonn said. “To be on that list is something that I’ve always dreamed of doing. The more I get wrapped up in trying to attain those numbers, the harder it is to actually attain them.”
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The 2020-21 Nordic combined season was supposed to be historic. This winter was going to be the first ever with women’s Nordic combined World Cup events, the first scheduled for Dec. 3-6 in Lillehammer, Norway.