Vonn backin pack in her return;Svindal winsTHE ASSOCIATED PRESS | December 07,2013AP PHOTO
Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal holds up his skis on the podium after finishing first during a men’s downhill on Friday in Beaver Creek, Colo.LAKE LOUISE, Alberta — Thrilled as she was to be racing again, Lindsey Vonn began Friday hoping for a victory, no matter how unrealistic that might have been 10 months after major knee surgery and less than three weeks after partially re-tearing a ligament.
As it turned out, she felt some jitters in her first competition since a February fall and skied conservatively by her standards, finishing 40th of 60 starters in a World Cup downhill.
“I’m always a positive thinker. I try to look on the bright side of everything, and I was really optimistic that I could come down and just — first race, right out of the blocks — win, and it was wishful thinking. But might as well shoot for the best, you know?” Vonn said.
“I was just too nervous. I was really tight, and I skied that way. I skied tight,” she explained. “I wasn’t in a really deep tuck. I wasn’t pushing the line where I could have. And I just kind of skied it, and that’s not my style. That’s not how I attack a race.”
Still, the reigning Olympic downhill gold medalist took an important step in preparation for the Sochi Games by racing for the first time since her high-speed crash at the world championships tore two ligaments in her right knee and broke a bone in that leg.
A fall during practice Nov. 19 in Colorado delayed her comeback.
The American finished in 1 minute, 59.22 seconds Friday, more than three seconds behind friend and rival Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who covered the course in 1:56.03 for her first victory of the season. Hoefl-Riesch was the 2011 overall World Cup champion and a double gold medalist at the 2010 Olympics.
“I was expecting a lot more, but that’s just who I am,” Vonn said. “I hope to win every race I enter. It’s just not that simple.”
Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden of Switzerland was second in 1:56.73, with Elena Fanchini of Italy third in 1:57.23. Lara Gut of Switzerland, who began the day leading the overall standings, was 10th.
Vonn missed the previous 14 World Cup races, including the first five this season. She had been aiming to return to action last week at Beaver Creek, Colo., not far from her hometown of Vail, but she scrapped those plans after damaging her repaired ACL in last month’s crash.
Still, she was pleased to make her comeback at Lake Louise, where she entered Friday with a seven-race winning streak dating to 2010. That included three-victory sweeps in 2011 and 2012, and her 14 career wins at a place some have nicknamed “Lake Lindsey” are a World Cup record for one skier at any venue.
Indeed, over the 12 previous Lake Louise races, Vonn never placed lower than second, with nine victories and three runner-up finishes.
But what truly mattered on this day was that Vonn was wearing a race bib, in the starting gate, and speeding down the hill at all, her right knee protected by a brace under her suit.
“It’s been a long time,” she said.
Vonn said she will enter Saturday’s downhill and Sunday’s super-G.
“To be honest, we didn’t expect her to win this race. A lot of people do, just because she has so many times,” U.S. Ski Team women’s speed coach Chip White said. “But with all she’s been through, we’re just happy to see her back in the mix, and I think this is where we build from.”
at Beaver Creek
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — As usual, Aksel Lund Svindal was super fast on this hill.
And it didn’t matter that organizers altered the layout. The Norwegian star still navigated it to near perfection, even with falling snow, freezing temperatures and low visibility.
Oh, yeah, he also is getting over a sinus infection.
“He’s the king,” Hannes Reichelt of Austria said.
Here, Svindal definitely wears the crown.
Svindal flew through the hybrid course — one that was hard to see through the low-lying clouds — to capture a World Cup downhill Friday. Svindal finished in 1 minute, 44.50 seconds, beating Reichelt by 0.17 seconds. Peter Fill of Italy was third.
American Bode Miller finished a solid 13th, rounding back into form after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
This was Svindal’s fourth career win at this venue. No wonder he holds Beaver Creek in such high regard, even if it is the site of one of his most horrific crashes.
In 2007, Svindal lost control over a jump and landed on his backside, sliding into a fence. During the fall, one of his razor-sharp skis went over him, leaving a 6-inch laceration of his left buttock. The cut so concerned doctors they went into his stomach to make sure everything internally was still intact.
A distant memory, he said.
He holds no animosity toward a venue that’s otherwise treated him so well. Of his 52 career podium finishes, 11 have taken place at Beaver Creek.
“The crazy thing is I don’t really have bad memories, even from the year I crashed and spent two weeks in the hospital,” said Svindal, who leads the overall World Cup standings after five races. “It’s a good place to be in the hospital. There are super good doctors.”
Reichelt thought he turned in a good run in deteriorating conditions, maybe a winning run. Six skiers later, Svindal powered out of the starting gate, gaining ground on Reichelt at every interval. When Svindal finished and saw his time, he pumped his poles in the air in exultation.
No one was going to catch him. This is his course, no matter how they lay it out.
Usually, this is a familiar downhill course for the racers. Only this season, it was a hybrid path that featured part of the new women’s downhill before switching over to the more traditional men’s setting.
“I like the old course better, I have to be honest,” Svindal said. “This is a good course. But the old course is one of the best courses in the world.
“I just decided to get after it. No one is going to ski this perfect in these conditions. So if you can’t ski it perfect, you have to ski it aggressively.”
That was Miller’s approach, too. He showed flashes of his old form, the one that won him many races before sitting out last season with a surgically repaired knee. With Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” blaring over the loudspeaker, Miller charged full speed ahead, his arms flailing in places and one of his skis lifting into the air at one point.
Miller, of Franconia, N.H., wound up 1.04 seconds behind Svindal.
That hardly mattered to him. In this race, Miller actually felt really good on skis. He was enjoying it.
“Even though the course is pretty basic and not that challenging in a way, I was fun today,” Miller said. “I knew I had a bunch of intensity, so I tried to ski dynamic.”
He thinks his equipment and the weather held him back more than anything, not his knee.
“I thought I skied pretty well,” said Miller, who scooped up his young daughter and hugged his wife after finishing. “Even though it’s not a great result, I’m happy with it. I skied the way I needed to ski.
“I think the races have not been a good representation of where my skiing was at. In training, I was winning runs against everyone, Aksel and the Canadians and everybody. This is a closer result to how I ski. If we had the best skis out there or we got a little luckier, I think we could’ve been in the lead.”
Travis Ganong had a good run for the U.S., finishing 15th, while Canadian Erik Guay, who had the top time in training, wound up 16th. All in all, it was a solid day for Canada with Manuel Osborne-Paradis (fourth) and Jan Hudec (seventh) finishing in the top 10.
For Reichelt, this was a step toward making a deep Austrian team for the Sochi Games.
Hardly anything to worry about for Svindal, who’s a virtual lock to make Sochi for his country. Svindal had quite a performance at the Vancouver Games four years ago, winning the super-G, taking second in the downhill and third in the giant slalom.
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