JEONGSEON, South Korea – Lindsey Vonn’s first Olympic race in eight years included one obvious, late mistake that she was sure cost her a medal – maybe even the gold.
Truth is, the American generally considered the greatest female ski racer in history botched things in the upper half of the super-G course Saturday, too, and so she wound up in a tie for sixth place, 0.38 seconds behind surprise champion Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic and 0.27 away from third place.
Vonn’s take on her run? “Really good. Really good. Really good. Baaaaad.”
At Vancouver in 2010, she took the bronze in the super-G and the gold in the downhill. She was forced to sit out the Sochi Games four years ago after tearing ligaments in her right knee.
So it was a thrill to be back on the Olympic stage this time for what she has said will be the final go-round.
But the four-time overall World Cup champion – and owner of the most race wins on that circuit by a woman, second-most by anyone – focused afterward on a particular miscue. It arrived in what she called “the last critical section,” about 6 seconds from the end of a race that took the winner 1 minute, 21.11 seconds to complete, just 0.01 seconds ahead of silver medalist Anna Veith of Austria, the 2014 champion.
Entering a jump-turn combination, Vonn allowed one of her skis to lift off the snow too much and swept several feet wide of the proper path, barely clearing a gate.
“I misjudged how I came in there,” Vonn acknowledged.
That gave away more than a quarter of a second to Ledecka in the final quarter of the piste.
If Vonn hadn’t done that, she said, “I think I would be on the podium, at bare minimum. I mean, that mistake was really big, and I’m only a couple tenths out of first. So I would estimate yes.”
Before that portion, “I mean, I felt really good. I was like, `Yes! I got this. I got this.’ And I knew I had to focus all the way to the finish because of that turn.”
Just as consequential, perhaps, was that she also lost quite a bit of time earlier: Vonn reached the halfway point of the race with only the 16th-best time, more than a half-second slower in that section than bronze medalist Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein, for example.
Vonn did make up for some of that by being fastest of everyone over the next quarter of the course, before the final error effectively eliminated any realistic chance at a medal.
Weirather noticed the early problems, saying that Vonn’s later flub “was actually not as costly as it looked, because she didn’t lose that much time there. She lost a whole bunch at the top.”
Everyone was watching Vonn at the beginning because she was the first racer out of the gate on a sunny day with nary a cloud. The start was delayed an hour because of strong winds, and those gusts of air appeared to come and go, helping some skiers and hurting others.
Vonn won one of the five super-G World Cup races she entered so far this season, putting her 10th in the standings, which meant she got the last choice among the top 10 for a place in the skiing order Saturday. That left her with bib No. 1, which is not necessarily ideal, because she didn’t get to watch anyone else navigate the route before she had to go.
Plus, as Italy’s Sofia Goggia, a pal of Vonn’s who finished 11th, put it, “If you get the info, you are more calm.”
Now Vonn will get a few days to gather herself and begin preparing for her best event, the downhill, which is scheduled for Wednesday.
She won three World Cup downhills in a row before heading to South Korea.
“In general, this season, I feel like I’ve been much better in downhill than super-G. And this hill suits me really well for downhill, also,” Vonn said. “I’m confident for the downhill.”