SOLDEN, Austria — The first run of the season-opening World Cup giant slalom on Saturday was well and truly over when Lindsey Vonn was still patiently working her way through countless TV interviews in a nearly abandoned finish area.
There was no need to hurry as the American four-time overall champion didn’t have to prepare for a second run.
Vonn’s first GS appearance in nearly two years ended in disappointment. She was 3.31 seconds behind first-run leader Manuela Moelgg of Italy and finished in 34th position, with only the top 30 starting in the final leg. The race was ultimately won by Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg.
“Obviously I wanted to do a little better today,” said Vonn, who was quick to take the positives. “I am always really nervous for the first race so it’s good to get that out of the way. I am just happy to be here, happy to be racing. This is what I love to do.”
Still, the record 77-time World Cup winner’s calculations from last week hadn’t paid off.
Her plan for the Olympic season initially didn’t include a start on the Rettenbach glacier. Since recovering from knee injuries, Vonn has been strongly focusing on the speed events of downhill and super-G.
This year she had trained GS for only one day during the annual pre-season camp in Chile, but a week ago Vonn suddenly changed her mind.
Not having raced GS since January 2016, the American had dropped outside the top 30 of the discipline rankings, leaving her with an unfavourable starting position.
With many of the big names out of Saturday’s race due to injury, Vonn expected to be able to rack up some points and improve her GS ranking ahead of the Olympic race in Pyeongchang in February.
“I think my solid skiing is enough to get in the top 15,” Vonn said after arriving in Austria and adding a few GS training sessions just over the Italian border in Schnalstal.
But reality struck hard on Saturday.
“Missing the second run sucks,” said Vonn after she couldn’t find a smooth rhythm and lacked pace from the start.
“It was a kind of grippy ice,” she said. “But it was also pretty bumpy and kind of shadowy.”
Vonn missed the 2014 Sochi Games following knee surgery, and her main priority this season is getting to Pyeongchang in good shape.
“This is probably my last Olympics so I will only get one more shot,” said Vonn, who is aiming to add to the downhill gold medal she won in Vancouver in 2010.
The tough course on the Austrian glacier didn’t help Vonn’s comeback in the discipline.
“Sometimes I don’t trust myself enough on my right knee when it gets bumpy like that,” she said. “My knee doesn’t really like GS that much so I have a harder time when the conditions get rough.”
Failing to score points in Soelden will affect her further schedule this season. Vonn ruled out a start in the next GS in Killington, Vermont, on Nov. 25, saying she won’t compete in the discipline again before a Dec. 19 event in Courchevel, France.
Vonn was set to fly back to the United States on Sunday and visit a fundraising event of the U.S. ski team in New York on Thursday.
The focus in her training will then quickly turn to downhill and GS again, ahead of the season’s first speed races on Dec. 1-3 at one of her favourite World Cup venues.
“I will be ready for Lake Louise,” she said.
– Eric Willemsen, The Associated Press
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