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Vail’s Vonn has new challengers in giant slalom

ANDREW DAMPF
AP Sports Writer
(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)Lindsey Vonn of the United States speeds down the course on her way to win the bronze medal in the Women's super-G, at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Saturday
AP | AP

WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) – Lindsey Vonn’s bruised shin may be the least of her worries now.

She has two races left to add to her Olympic medal haul – the giant slalom Wednesday and the slalom Friday – and she has a fresh crop of challengers to boot.

After beginning her Vancouver Games with gold in downhill and bronze in super-G, Vonn took Sunday “completely off” to rest her right shin, which she injured in pre-Olympic training Feb. 2 in Austria. She wrote on her Facebook page that a giant slalom training session Monday “went well,” and pronounced herself “happy with my skiing.”

She may need to be in both good shape and good form.

Vonn has never cracked the podium in giant slalom, traditionally her most challenging event. Her best career finish was fourth in Aspen, Colo., near her home in Vail, last season.

This season, Vonn has had trouble with the conditions on GS courses injected with water to create icier surfaces, and she blamed inconsistent conditions when she hurt her wrist in a fall in Lienz, Austria, at the end of December.

And while the GS is her weakest race, it also features perhaps her strongest competition.

That starts with teammate Julia Mancuso of Squaw Valley, Calif.

Mancuso is the defending Olympic champion, even if she admits “I’m not going into the GS ranked the best.” She hasn’t finished better than 13th in GS this season, but already has won two medals at Whistler – silvers in the downhill and the super-combined.

“I have nothing to lose,” Mancuso said.

Vonn and Mancuso are ranked 28th in the World Cup GS standings, meaning they won’t get one of the coveted early start numbers reserved for the higher-ranked skiers.

Those include a bevy of well-rested GS specialists who have been training away from Whistler and just got in town: Denise Karbon of Italy, who won four consecutive giant slaloms back in 2007-08; Tanja Poutiainen of Finland, who was the silver medalist behind Mancuso four years ago and won the final GS before Vancouver this year, in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy; and GS world champion Kathrin Hoelzl of Germany.

Karbon said the group liked what they could see from the air.

“We only saw it from the gondola,” she said. “It looks real nice. It’s full of bumps, and there aren’t too many flats which would put us at a disadvantage.”

Karbon has struggled with injuries throughout her career. She has undergone eight surgeries, the latest on her right meniscus in December, but says she’s healthy now.

“The injury is forgotten now,” Karbon said. “I’m able to go 100 percent in training.”

She finished fourth in the GS at last season’s world championships in Val d’Isere, France.

Hoelzl won that race, and has kept her form. She is the only skier to win two GS races this season, putting her atop the World Cup GS standings. Kathrin Zettel of Austria is second, super-G silver medalist Tina Maze is third and Poutiainen is fourth.

Also in the field is Swedish standout Anja Paerson. A two-time world champion in GS, she hasn’t posted a victory in the event in four years, but she has proven her tenacity at Whistler and is chasing a seventh Olympic medal – which would move her past her former rival Janica Kostelic as the most successful female Alpine skier in Winter Games history.

She tied the record with a bronze in the super-combined, a day after a frightening crash in the marquee downhill. Paerson lost control on the last jump and sailed about half a football field before landing on her back, tumbling through a gate and sliding across the finish line. She was badly bruised but no bones were broken, and she was back on the mountain in less than 24 hours.

“I’ve been skiing good in training and I feel very comfortable with my skis,” Paerson said of the GS, “and everything is where I want it to be.”


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