Vail’s Vonn performs impressively despite injured thumb
VAIL, Colorado ” At least Vail, Colorado’s Lindsey Vonn didn’t reinjure her thumb.
Skiing only four days after she had surgery on a severed tendon in her right thumb, the American was second after the opening run Saturday of the world championship slalom won by Germany’s Maria Riesch.
Wearing a specially designed splint, and duct tape all around her glove that made it look like she was ready for the ring, Vonn knocked gates out of her way like a prizefighter.
She was unable, however, to plant her right pole properly and fell in her second trip down, crashed through a gate and slid downhill for about 70 yards. Then she got right back up and skied down to congratulate Riesch, her good friend.
“I was out there doing my best even with my thumb,” Vonn said. “I’m really happy for Maria, but I would have loved to have been on the podium with her.”
Vonn landed on her right side but somehow avoided more damage to her thumb.
“I was trying to keep my hand close to me, but I also was sliding backwards really fast, so I don’t really know exactly what happened,” she said.
Riesch’s victory gave Germany two straight golds after Kathrin Hoelzl took the giant slalom Thursday
The top three skiers from the first leg ” Manuela Moelgg, Vonn and Sandrine Aubert ” all failed to finish the second run.
“I know the top three went out, but I still had a good run,” Riesch said. “You’ve got to make it down.”
Moving up from sixth after the first leg, Riesch timed 1 minute, 51.80 seconds over two runs down the steep Face de Bellevarde course.
Defending champion Sarka Zahrobska of the Czech Republic finished second, 0.77 seconds behind, and Tanja Poutiainen of Finland was third, 1.09 back, for her second consecutive bronze medal.
Riesch has won 10 World Cup races in her career, but this was her first medal at a major championship. She crashed in downhill training last week and finished fourth in the super-combi.
“I’ve had a rough championships,” Riesch said. “I had to wait to the last day for a medal.”
The two victories were just what Germany wanted leading into the next championships in Riesch’s hometown of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 2011.
Vonn sliced her thumb open at a celebration after her downhill victory Monday, then jetted to Innsbruck, Austria, for surgery.
“I had to hit the gate differently on my pole so that it doesn’t hurt my hand as much,” Vonn said after the opening run. “I’m skiing about 90 percent of what I can do. It’s just a little bit awkward. My right hand probably weighs like 2 pounds more because of all the duct tape I have on it.”
Vonn also won the super-G that opened the championships and was aiming for her third gold medal.
“For her to have that time with this injury is incredible,” teammate Sarah Schleper said of Vonn’s opening run. “She’s a step above the rest. That wasn’t even her best skiing. … You could tell that she wasn’t even pole-planting on that side.
“She impresses me every day. She works harder than everyone I know. She’s a specimen of an athlete and it’s amazing to have her on our team and watch her perform day after day,” said Schleper, who failed to qualify for the second run in her first worlds since taking two years off due to injury and the birth of her first child.
Another American, Hailey Duke of Boise, Idaho, fell in the first leg.
First-run leader Moelgg was on pace for victory when she straddled a gate within sight of the finish line.
Moelgg has never won on the World Cup circuit despite five runner-up finishes.
Aubert, the Frenchwoman who was third after the opening run, fell on her second trip down, hiked back up and finished nearly 50 seconds behind. Still, she earned applause from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who looked on from the stands.
Returning from a 13-month injury layoff, Resi Stiegler of Jackson Hole, Wyo., wore bright red lipstick to celebrate Valentine’s Day and finished a respectable 19th.
“I had my heart set on this a year ago. I had just gotten off crutches on Valentine’s Day last year,” said Stiegler, who crashed in Lienz, Austria, in December 2007, fracturing her left arm and damaging ligaments in her right knee, plus multiple bruises.
“It’s a beautiful sunny day, Valentine’s Day, World Championships. The combo is pretty cool for my first run back.