CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy – Lately, Lindsey Vonn is crashing more than she’s winning.
The most successful female ski racer of all time fell and hit the safety netting during a World Cup downhill Saturday in exactly the same spot where she crashed a day earlier in an official training session.
“I’m getting a little sore. I’m too old to be hitting the fence that hard,” said the 32-year-old Vonn, who was again fortunate to walk away without any serious injuries. “I’m happy to still be in one piece.”
It’s not like Vonn to fall two days in a row – and nearly unheard of for her to fall two days in a row in the same spot.
“It’s unusual,” U.S head coach Paul Kristofic said, adding that Vonn is still regaining her timing after an injury layoff. “But she’s pushing hard. She wants to win the race and she knows she has the speed to do it and she’s taking some risks. When you’re pushing, sometimes things can go wrong and there’s also the element that (she) hasn’t had a lot of time on long skis at high speed.”
Defending overall champion Lara Gut of Switzerland won her first downhill of the season, finishing 0.05 seconds ahead of Sofia Goggia of Italy and 0.47 in front of Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia.
Having won a downhill last weekend in just her second race back from nearly a year out with knee and arm injuries, Vonn was expecting to add to her record total of 11 wins in Cortina.
Vonn’s boyfriend, football coach Kenan Smith, was attending his first ski race in Europe.
Two years ago, Vonn broke Annemarie Moser Proell’s circuit-wide record of 62 wins in Cortina, and the Italian resort is also where Vonn earned her first podium result 13 years ago.
But Vonn hasn’t been able to negotiate a tricky jump and left turn that takes skiers from bright sunshine to dark shade on the upper section of the Olympia delle Tofane course.
“I felt like I was going pretty fast so I slowed myself down,” Vonn said. “When I landed, there was a little bit of a bump and my outside ski caught. I did the splits and went straight into the fence.”
It was only Vonn’s fourth race back since fracturing her left knee in a super-G crash in Andorra last February. The American was planning to return in November but then broke her upper right arm in a training crash at Copper Mountain, Colorado.
Vonn called her return from the nerve damage in her arm the “hardest recovery of my career,” revealing that she couldn’t even move her fingers soon after surgery.
Vonn also missed the 2014 Sochi Olympics after tearing up her knee in a crash at the 2013 world championships in Schladming, Austria.
In between the crashes, however, Vonn has built up her win total to 77 – well within striking distance of Ingemar Stenmark’s men’s record of 86.
“She doesn’t have a lot of fear – or any fear, really,” Kristofic said. “Her focus is to go out there and to try to beat everybody and ski to the maximum of what she’s able to and at times things do go wrong when that happens. But that’s a risk she’s willing to take.”
Collecting herself after her latest crash, Vonn skied down to the finish area. She had already had a small bobble earlier in her run but was 0.18 ahead of Gut at the first checkpoint just before her crash.
“That’s a point where you simply need the right timing,” Gut said. “If you jump a little too much to the right or to the left it becomes difficult. You go into the darkness for a moment.
“The important thing is that she’s OK,” Gut added.
Vonn was still planning to race a super-G on Sunday as she prepares for the upcoming world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
“I’m OK. I’m a little sore but hopefully I’ll be fine for tomorrow,” Vonn said. “It just wasn’t my day today, or yesterday for that matter, but that’s ski racing.”
Gut, meanwhile, is rounding into top form just before the home-snow worlds.
The victory reduced Gut’s deficit in the overall standings behind American leader Mikaela Shiffrin to 30 points.
Goggia had the Italian crowd going wild before Gut came down and silenced the fans with a perfect performance on the lower section, which is full of curves.
As usual, the Cortina course was bathed in sunshine and skiers hit speeds of 120 kph (75 mph) in the Tofane schuss, a narrow chute between two walls of rock.
“There’s not a place in world where the slope is so (well) prepared,” Gut said. “I wish we had more places like Cortina. It’s just cool.”
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