Source: USA TODAY
LAKE LOUISE, ALBERTA — Lindsey Vonn wants to race fast and aggressive. Most of all she wants to win. Still, after finishing 40th among 58 racers in Friday’s downhill, she called her first race in 10 months a success.
“Oh yeah. I made it down,” she said. “C’mon, give me a little credit. I got a little bit of ACL left.”
After all, some questioned whether she would be healthy enough to compete in the Sochi Olympics, a year after tearing the ACL and medial collateral ligament in her right knee. Then, when she partially tore the same ACL two weeks ago, her future seemed as unclear as the mid-course fog.
“For me, it was not about the place, it was just about me being back and racing for the first time since my injury,” said Vonn, who plans on racing in Saturday’s downhill and Sunday’s super-G. “I’m happy to be back. I was definitely very nervous having been my first race in 10 months. I was expecting a lot more but that’s just who I am. I hope to win every race I enter.
“It’s just not that simple. … I hope tomorrow is much better but it does take a little time to build the confidence back up. … I think tomorrow is going to be a whole other story. I’m going to be much more relaxed and more confident and able to ski more aggressively and ski more like myself.”
Afterwards, Vonn signed countless ski helmets, gloves and jackets. As she walked down the slope in her ski boots, she was surrounded by pint-sized kids in puffy coats.
“I was just looking at our picture from last year,” Vonn told one girl, 7-year-old Sierra Coe. On this day last year, Vonn jumped the security fence and gave Coe an extended piggy-back ride moments after her race. She later posted the photo on her Instagram page.
Every season Vonn looks forward to seeing the same kids from the Lake Louise Ski Club, who swarm her in the race’s aftermath. This year wasn’t any different.
Even though so much else was different. Last season she won both downhills and the super-G, recording a hat trick at the Alberta resort for the second year in a row.
As some kids handed her a drawing which read, “You’re my inspiration,” another kid asked her for her racing bib. Normally, she would hand it over without a second thought.
But this year is different. “I’m going to keep this one,” she said. “This is my first race back.”
After waiting so long to wear a racing bib once again, Vonn didn’t mind having to wait another hour, after the race was delayed due to the extreme cold (minus 17 at the start) and fog.
Though it wasn’t realistic by any standard, Vonn entered the starting gate shooting to win, just as she always does.
“It was wishful thinking but I might as well shoot for the best,” she said. “But I was too nervous and really tight and I skied that way. I wasn’t in a really deep tuck, I wasn’t pushing the line where I could have. I just kind of skied it, and that’s not my style, that’s not how I attack a race.”
Vonn’s time of 1:59.22, was well behind winner Maria Höfl-Riesch of Germany, who covered the course in 1:56.03.
For the rest of the U.S. veterans, it was a forgettable afternoon. Julia Ford was 21st, the highest finish among the eight Americans. Three U.S. skiers landed in the bottom 10.
“We’re very disappointed with our results today,” U.S. coach Chip White said. “It was probably our worst performance in recent history as a group.”
Vonn’s return overshadowed the team’s second weekend in a row of sub-par racing. The small crowd of about 200 fans cheered Vonn when she crossed the finish line, no matter how far off the pace. “Welcome back,” the race announcer said.
“To have her win this today would have been a miracle to tell you the truth, but we’re pleased to see her back,” said White. “We build from here and see how the rest of the season goes.”