The Canadian Press
PHOTOGRAPHY: Michel Painchaud
Lindsey Vonn left Lake Louise with both confidence and the belief she can ski faster.
After winning her first downhill in almost two years, the U.S. ski star was second behind winner Lara Gut of Switzerland in Sunday’s World Cup super-G.
World Cup overall leader Tina Maze of Slovenia was third and Larisa Yurkiw of Owen Sound, Ont., was 20th.
With two knee surgeries in as many years, this was the second straight season Vonn launched her comeback at the Lake Louise World Cup. This return looks more promising than a year ago.
“It meant a lot to have worked so hard for so long and to finally be back in a position where I’m contending every race,” Vonn said Sunday. “That’s more than I could have hoped for.”
Vonn’s downhill victory Saturday was her first since Jan. 26, 2013. She tore two ligaments and broke a bone in her right leg a month later while racing super-G at the world alpine ski championships.
More ligament damage sustained prior to her arrival in Lake Louise last year limited her to just four starts. Another surgery in January sidelined her again.
With a career 60 World Cup victories, Vonn is two away from matching the women’s record of 62 held by Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria.
The four-time overall World Cup champion and first American woman to win Olympic downhill gold in 2010 will return to Colorado to catch up with speed training she missed this fall. Vonn didn’t get back on snow until Oct. 1.
“I have a lot of speed races left in the season, so now I have the confidence I need,” Vonn said. “Hopefully by the next race, I’ll be guns-a-blazing and ready to really put down some good super-G runs.”
Vonn finished just under four-tenths of a second back of Gut, who claimed her second super-G win in as many years at Lake Louise.
Gut didn’t make the top-10 in downhill races Friday or Saturday, but set a blistering pace Sunday in a time of one minute 18.46 seconds.
“Downhill is something that is complicated for me in Lake Louise. It’s always a fight,” Gut said. “Super-G is way more fun for me. I would love if we raced two super-G and just one downhill here, but it’s not going to happen.”
After winning the first downhill of the season Friday, Maze looked unhappy with 10th the next day. The reigning Olympic champion in downhill and giant slalom was smiling again after the super-G.
“That was quite a shock yesterday,” Maze acknowledged. “I had a lot of adrenalin in my blood.”
“I still have something to do in super-G, but I’m really happy with my skiing. Coming here in Lake Louise, I had a big wish to win here once and it happened.”
Maze and Vonn are deadlocked atop the overall downhill standings. The prize purse in each of the three women’s races in Lake Louise was C$118,000 with $35,000 going to each winner.
Yurkiw posted a career-best fourth in Saturday’s downhill to add to the excitement at the finish line around Vonn’s victory.
The top 30 skiers in each race earn World Cup points, so Canada’s lone female downhiller is ranked 11th after opening weekend.
“It’s such a great base, foundation, for the season,” Yurkiw said. “It’s more than we hoped for. I’m taking a lot out of this weekend.”
Slalom and giant slalom specialist Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., missed a gate in Sunday’s super-G. The technical races are her specialty, but Gagnon races some speed events in order to compete in the combined event.
Valerie Grenier of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was 32nd in her World Cup debut.
Gagnon heads this week to Are, Sweden, for a giant slalom Friday and a slalom Saturday. The next World Cup women’s downhill is scheduled for Dec. 20-21 in Val-d’Isere, France.