Vonn takes second at World Cup Downhill Finals in Aspen; Stuhec wins | VailDaily.com

Vonn takes second at World Cup Downhill Finals in Aspen; Stuhec wins

Lindsey Vonn continues to be tested, and continues to prove she remains one of the best.

Still suffering from a “chest cold” she picked up coming back from an Olympic test event in South Korea two weeks ago, the Vail ski racer finished second in the women’s downhill race Wednesday, the first day of racing at the World Cup Finals on Aspen Mountain.

“It was tough. On the training runs I didn’t feel too bad,” Vonn said. “When I was at the start, my nose wouldn’t stop running. But today it’s really in my lungs. I was in the start, and I was like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this.'”

Vonn, who finished on the podium in Aspen for the first time in her career, completed the course in 1 minute, 37.61 seconds. She was 0.66 seconds behind race winner Ilka Stuhec, who clinched the women’s downhill globe.

Italy’s Sofia Goggia was third, 1.03 seconds behind Stuhec. Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather was fourth and American Laurenne Ross fifth.

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It was the first women’s World Cup downhill race in Aspen since 2007.

“I pushed as hard as I could, and unfortunately I wasn’t very fast on the flat,” Vonn said of the race start. “Clearly, the earlier numbers were better for both men and women. But I thought my skiing was good. That’s all I can do.”

With abnormally warm weather making for soft, slow snow, it was important to have a low bib number. Both Stuhec and Italy’s Dominik Paris, who won the men’s downhill race earlier Wednesday morning, were first out of the start gate. Goggia was third to go, while Vonn was ninth.

Stuhec, who entered the race with a 97-point cushion on Goggia in the discipline, wasted no time, putting down a nearly flawless run of 1:36.95. When Goggia finished in 1:37.98 only two skiers later, Stuhec’s first globe was secured.

“She had the advantage of starting early and she put the hammer down. She is good at executing when it counts,” Vonn said of Stuhec. “She has definitely struggled getting support from her federations, so to have her have a good season is awesome. She is definitely skiing extremely well. It’s nice to be on the podium with them.”

Stuhec, the 26-year-old from Slovenia who has long been on the World Cup circuit, is having a breakout season. With little help from her home country and her mother serving as her coach and ski technician, Stuhec has won seven World Cup races this year, including Wednesday’s final. On top of that, last month she won downhill gold at the World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

“I’m really happy that I could keep the high level from start to end,” Stuhec said of her downhill globe. “It’s important to have fun, no matter what you do. And I think we all love skiing. Like today, the snow was perfect — the weather also. It was just a really, really nice day to enjoy it.”

Prior to this season, Stuhec’s best discipline finish was taking 12th in super-G last winter. Along with her downhill globe, Stuhec already won the combined title (there are no combined races at Finals), and has a 15-point lead on Weirather entering Thursday’s super-G final. The 100 points she earned for winning Wednesday’s downhill cut into Mikaela Shiffrin’s overall lead, although Stuhec still remains in second, 278 points back with only three races to go.

As happy as Stuhec was for becoming Slovenia’s first downhill crystal globe winner, Vonn was equally as thrilled for taking second. She missed the first part of the season after breaking her arm training at Copper Mountain, and her lingering cold made even pushing out of the start gate Wednesday challenging.

Vonn finished fourth in the downhill season standings with 280 points. Stuhec was first with 597 points, followed by Goggia’s 460 points and Lara Gut’s 360 points.

With a raspy voice — and still shaking off a crash that sent her harmlessly into the barrier at the finish area of the course — Vonn’s current state was evident in what she had to say.

“Just have to really put everything in perspective. I am really happy to be second, coming back from this injury,” Vonn said. “I just think all my injuries make me appreciate what I do even more. I don’t get frustrated. I know I can ski well. It’s a matter of executing when I’m on the course. Not every day is going to be perfect, but I’m here doing what I love and I’m very thankful for that.”

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