Vail Daily column: Vonn confident in comeback
Behind the Gold
There was just a hint of light cresting the ridgelines to the east against an otherwise dark, black sky. Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn clicked into her Head skis and pushed off towards the American Eagle lift at Copper Mountain. Cold, damp snow swirled around her as the lift sped through a battery of guns pumping out snow to prepare for the season ahead. To the west, a full moon was setting over her hometown of Vail. It was a familiar scene for the 30-year-old champion — one that had been playing out for her since she used to ride the lift up Buck Hill in darkness to train for her dream.
CONFIDENCE OF A CHAMPION
As she pushed out of the starting gate time after time, Lindsey Vonn looked lean and mean training high up on Copper Mountain’s Ptarmigan run last week. She appeared comfortable, arcing solid racing turns and looking fast — very fast! Times reflected that.
But, most of all, she carried the confidence of a champion very comfortable with her place in history and businesslike in the approach to her continuing comeback from the devastating crash in February 2013 at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming, Austria. This year, those World Championships will be at her home resort, Vail and Beaver Creek. And she wants to be there!
Training is about routine. As the early morning light began to illuminate the mountaintop, Vonn took run after run after run. It was all business up at 12,000 feet. A month earlier, she took her first on-snow runs since December, training for a few days at Soelden, Austria, before moving over to Saas-Fee, Switzerland.
Now it was go time as she prepared for her return at Lake Louise in early December, a favorite stop on the World Cup tour where she’s won 14 times.
CRUSHED OLYMPIC DREAMS
That was the plan a year ago until she hooked up in soft, new snow at Copper Mountain in mid-November, tweaking her injured knee.
In an Olympic season, she still pushed forward. In her downhill debut at Lake Louise, she was 40th — over three seconds out. But by the end of the weekend, she was just off the podium in fifth at the opening super-G. And by the next weekend in Val d’Isere, it became clear that her Olympic season was over.
A year later, Vonn remains businesslike in her approach and confident in her recovery and ability to come back.
‘BETTER THAN I ANTICIPATED’
“My knee is doing really well,” she said during the team’s media days in Copper. “Training has been going extremely well. I don’t have any pain or swelling, so that’s definitely a lot better than I had actually anticipated. My goal is still to start racing in Lake Louise. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting GS to be coming along as quickly as it has.”
As she cycled lap after lap on Ptarmigan, in the depths of her mind were the World Championships at home as well as the magical record of 62 World Cup wins held by Austrian superstar Annemarie Moser-Proell. Lindsey is just three wins away.
She admits that a lot has changed in the past two seasons. Gone is her friend and rival Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who retired this spring. New stars like Austria’s Anna Fenninger and Vonn’s own teammate Mikaela Shiffrin have emerged.
TIME WILL TELL
But when questioned as to her own doubts, Vonn is quick to respond —calmly and coolly — that she is confident in her ability. Time will tell, she says. Yes, it’s a new playing field. But she feels ready and exudes a quiet confidence.
There is no glitz or hyperbole at the top of a training course. It’s about the sport in its rawest form — athletes cycling run after run, seeking to carve off a hundredth here or a hundredth there. There are no fans, no TV cameras, no loudspeakers.
But there is a very special energy. You see it in the smiling faces of the junior racers on the course a run over. And you see it in the intensity of U.S. Olympic champions like Vonn and Julia Mancuso.
As Lindsey says, time will tell. But don’t be surprised to see Lindsey Vonn battling for gold this February in Vail Beaver Creek.
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president of communications for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. This column first appeared in the Park Record in Park City, Utah.