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Older (not by much), but just as fast

Ian CroppVail, CO Colorado
SPT U.S. Ski Training 6 DT 11-8-07
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KEYSTONE Meet the U.S. Ski Teams Lindsey Vonn. Shes pretty much like her old self Lindsey Kildow with a few tweaks here and there.Vonn, a former Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athlete, married Thomas Vonn on Sept. 29 in Deer Valley, Utah.Life is pretty much the same as every other day, Vonn said Thursday at the base of Keystones North Peak after a training session. Its the same old life for the Vonns, as weird as that sounds.After a great 2007 season cut short by a knee injury, Vonn is back in form for this years World Cup campaign.I think Im stronger than Ive ever been before, Vonn said. I know I keep saying that every year, but your body matures and you are used to training and weightlifting and it becomes muscle memory. My endurance training has been awesome.Vonns left knee, which she sprained at the end of the 2007 World Alpine Championships, is at 100 percent, she said. And with two silver medals in her pocket from the World Championships, the big-race monkey is finally off Vonns back.That was the one thing I had never done got medals at big events, Vonn said. I definitely was able to put a big check mark off on that goal. Now I have that confidence going into the next World Championships and the next Olympics.I feel more comfortable and more confident. Things are settling down, and I get to do what I love every day.Even Vonns German is improving. I feel like Im breaking into new territory, she said. Im friends with most of the Austrian girls. I like being in that culture. Its the culture of ski racing, and its fun to be able to communicate with so many people.Last year, Vonn and teammate Julia Mancuso were a constant one-two threat in speed races. When she injured her knee, Vonn was second in the super-G standings and third in the downhill standings.Im really hoping I can get a downhill or super-G title this year, Vonn said. The overall is always in the back of my mind, but Im not going to focus on it. Im just going to try to ski the best I can in speed and get a couple of points in (giant slalom) and slalom and see where that takes me.Traditionally, Vonns weakest event has been giant slalom, although at the opening race of this season in Solden, Austria, a giant slalom, Vonn took 13th.I trained really well this summer and (the International Ski Federation) changed the rules for skis, and Rossignol came up with some pretty sick skis. … I think that had a lot to do with it.While Mancuso hasnt been in Summit County, where the U.S. Team has been training this week on its exclusive hill at Keystone (used mostly for technical skiing) and at Copper (speed training), her presence will be felt when she arrives.Its really sweet to have two people on the same team competing for everything, Vonn said. Its pretty unique.Its a good, healthy rivalry, said Alex Hoedlmoser, the U.S. womens downhill and super-G coach. Its really nice for us as coaches, for the team and for the whole country that you have contenders in every event.With the retirement of Kirsten Clark, Caroline Lalivies season-ending knee surgery and Vails Sarah Schleper taking the year off to have a child, Vonn steps into an even bigger role for the team.Im the old, married woman on the team, and Im 23, Vonn joked. Its kind of crazy. Poor Caroline I feel awful for her. Our team took a big loss losing her. Im just going to try to do my best to be the old, married woman and keep the kids in line.

It really wasnt too long ago that Bryon Friedman and Marco Sullivan were the future of the mens team while Steven Nyman was cutting his teeth as the junior world slalom champion.Now, along with elder statesman Erik Schlopy, who at 35 is five years older than anyone on the squad, Friedman and Sullivan are the veterans.I was thinking about that today, Sullivan said Thursday. I went from being the hot-shot rookie to all of a sudden the veteran with not much in between. Weve got young guys coming up, and its cool they are actually looking to me for advice, and just trying to stay ahead of them is a challenge.Friedman, much like Sullivan, spent a long time coming back from a serious injury. Its been brutal, Friedman said of his more than 2 1⁄2 years spent slowly recovering from a horrific crash. Its weird. It feels, like, awkward at first it doesnt feel right, the speed and everything.Suddenly, three years later, Im an old guy. But this is the most cohesive Ive seen the team since Ive been on it. The young guys are really respectful, and the old guys are also respectful of the young guys.The most glaring difference from last years team is the departure of the amazing and enigmatic Bode Miller. But life without Miller wont be that much different.As he became more and more successful, he had more time constraints, Schlopy said of Miller. We also miss Daron (Rahlves). Well always miss a good competitor to train with.Schlopy, who almost is fully recovered from a bad knee injury that ended his season early last year, has provided a great boost to the team in terms of leadership.Everyone is happy hes around, said Greg Needell, the mens giant slalom coach. He brings so much experience and knowledge. Its like having another coach for the guys. They have someone to go to. And hes living in a totally different world.With a young daughter and a son on the way, Schlopy offers a different perspective to the very young team.Its fun. Im a dad now, he said. I catch myself telling guys stories about my daughter, and I think, I dont know if they want to hear stories about this yet.

A World Cup win can do plenty for a skiers confidence. But it can also change a skiers career.It laid a lot of expectations on me, said Nyman, who took third at the Beaver Creek downhill and then won at Val Gardena, Italy. Its a whole new game. You cant just concentrate on the skiing anymore. Im the face of my company for speed (skiing). I develop a lot of the products. I have a lot of sponsor obligations. There are other things besides skiing. When you are young, its just skiing, skiing, skiing.Ted Ligety, who burst onto the scene with a gold in the super-combined at the Olympics, is in a similar situation to Nyman.The tricky thing is to keep winning, Nyman said. We had a meeting this spring, and they laid out all the past American winners, and I dont know how many there were, 20 or 25, but there were only four of five who won multiple times. Ted has one (World Cup win a giant slalom); I have one, but weve each only won once. A win also takes a little luck, too. I know a bunch of guys who have been on a ton of podiums but never won.Nyman has been happy to get some runs under his belt after a break from the snow in an attempt to heal a back injury.I progressed through the summer, and Im feeling good here besides the fact that I went through the fence today and into the trees yesterday, Nyman said.On Thursday, Nyman crashed during a training run and came out OK, while his previous days encounter with the trees left him with a fat lip. Chris Beckmann had the biggest scare of the day, slipping and flying through a net on the course. With the back of his ski suit torn to shreds and bloody cut on the left side of his back, Beckmann skied to the bottom, where teammates took video and photos.Everyone was glad Beckmann wasnt hurt, and Sullivan put things into a different perspective.We had two guys go through the fence today, he said. That doesnt happen in a normal training session. Guys are ramping up, getting ready to race. Extras: Seven U.S. Team members will compete in this weekends slalom races in Rieteralm, Austria. The races were scheduled for Levi, Finland, but were moved due to poor snow conditions. Following the slalom races, the men and women head to Canada for speed races, then swing back down for the Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek (men) and Winternational at Aspen (women). Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.


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