If Lindsey Vonn was nervous stepping to the starting gate at the top of the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center downhill practice course Wednesday at Copper Mountain, she didn’t show it.
It was her first time on a downhill course since tearing the ACL and MCL ligaments in her right knee in February.
The four-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold-medalist slid up to the starting gate just as she has countless times before, waiting for the all-clear notice to come over the radio. While waiting, she loosened up, practiced her tuck position, smiled and laughed with a team staff member tending the starting gate.
Then she listened intently as a final course conditions report came over the staff member’s radio.
After the update, Vonn took to the gate, planted her poles in a starting position and waited for the signal. When it came, she charged out of the gate and down the course.
Vonn and fellow downhill teammates lapped the full-length downhill course five times during their morning practice session.
“It was good, really good,” Vonn said. “First day downhill, conditions were great. A little windy, but all in all it was a good day.”
Of her training progress since returning from the injury, Vonn said, “I feel good. I’ve mostly been concentrating on speed. I’m really focused on Beaver Creek.”
After being cleared to return to snow in September, Vonn decided to forego the first World Cup giant-slalom race in Soelden, Austria, Oct. 26. She plans instead to make her return to competition at home, when the World Cup competition comes to Beaver Creek on Nov. 29.
“I didn’t have much training,” Vonn said of her decision to opt out of the first race. “I didn’t quite feel ready. I felt like I needed more training.”
As to where she stands now, she said, “Downhill, it was my first day, so I was taking it pretty easy. But super-G is definitely 100 percent. I haven’t trained G.S. since I’ve been here. I definitely need more training in that.”
She will continue to train with the team at both Copper and Vail in the weeks leading up to the competitions in Beaver Creek.
“I have plenty of time,” she said, confident of her return.
Members of the U.S. men’s team took to the hill for G.S. practice in the afternoon, as did some women’s slalom racers.
Vonn’s teammate and fellow Vail resident Mikaela Shiffrin reportedly trained at Vail on Wednesday.
Glenwood Springs native Alice McKennis, who is also recovering from a major leg injury, had the day off and will return to snow tomorrow.
Men’s and women’s practices will resume Thursday morning and continue into November.
Spectators are welcome in the East Village base area to watch training, but the Speed Center slopes will remain closed to the public while the team is at Copper.
On Friday, Copper Mountain will host the U.S. Ski Team First Tracks alpine team-naming celebration, previously held in Vail.
Fans can watch the alpine team training session from noon to 1 p.m. Friday at the base of the Super Bee chairlift and JJ’s Rocky Mountain Tavern.
After training, the team will make a public appearance at the “Believe in U.S.” pep rally starting at 4 p.m. in Center Village. Team athletes will be on hand for the official team naming and ensuing celebration. The event will also include an athlete parade and live music.