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Vonn geared up for Aspen downhill

Chris FreudVail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/Doug HaneyLindsey Vonn radios course conditions to teammates at the top of the hill during downhill training in Aspen.
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ASPEN – Lake Louise, Alberta, has come and gone for Lindsey Vonn.And seemingly like every other year, the former Ski & Snowboard Club Vail racer has left the Great White North with a downhill win in her pocket.Last weekend’s victory was her fourth in as many years on the 1988 Olympic hill, and she has arrived in Aspen for today’s 11 a.m. downhill oozing with confidence. But it’s not just her.After winning Wednesday’s training, the buzz is starting. Some might call her the favorite for today’s race. More importantly, people are bring up the year 1981.That was the last time an American woman – Tamara McKinley – won a downhill on home snow.”I was made aware of it,” Vonn said at a news conference at the St. Regis Hotel, which sits not far from the finishing area. “I really want to do well here whether someone’s done well here or not 20-something years ago. I want to win for my home country. There’s quite a bit of pressure, not only from everybody else because of what they way I always put pressure on myself to do well. I’m kind of my harshest critic.”She doesn’t have much cause to be critical. She is one of the sport’s rising stars, with eight career wins, which puts her only one behind Picabo Street – excellent company. She won three times last year – the obligatory Lake Louise triumph as well as the downhill at Val d’Isere, France, and super-G in San Sicario, Italy.Shifting from Lake Louise to Aspen requires a change in mindset, which makes the San Sicario win more significant. Ruthie’s Run is lining up more as a long super-G and less as a traditional downhill like Lake Louise.”Whereas Lake Louise is pretty much a run-and-gun course – you just check your mind and go as fast as you can – here, you have to think ahead and know exactly where you’re going and where to pressure your skis.”It’s a lot more technical than Lake Louise. There are three really key turns – the turns you really have to nail to keep your speed coming down the course. If you don’t do those well, you’re pretty much in trouble.”

Vonn took training Wednesday with a time of 1 minute, 34.30 seconds, ahead of Elisabeth Goergl (1:34.39), Martina Schild (1:34.70) and Renate Goestchl (1:34.82), all of whom figure to be in today’s mix.Vonn attributes her Lake Louise success to comfort level.”I just trust myself a lot on that course,” she said. “I know exactly where to go. I don’t even need to inspect. It’s one of those things. Some athletes just have good feelings on some courses. Renate has something like 15 wins at Cortina, (Italy – she actually has nine). You just let your skis go, and you always find your way to the right line.”She seems just as comfortable off the slopes, having recently married for U.S. Ski Team member Thomas Vonn. She’s also not shy about expressing her opinions. When asked about European skiers having to be away from home during this North American swing of the tour, she was ready to go.”Omigosh, it’s pathetic,” Vonn said. “They’re crying. It’s like, ‘I want to go home after being one week in the U.S.’ It’s ridiculous. It’s like, ‘Give me a break.’ … I think they really don’t like our food, our hotels. They pretty much don’t like the U.S. I’m like, ‘So you really think we like Europe that much?’ We really don’t want to be over there five months out of the year.”Nevertheless, she is starting to learn German, essentially the language of alpine skiing, to be more a part of the scene.”I hate it when I’m like the arrogant American because you have to speak English,” she said. “I want to be in their culture.”

Vonn goes 16th today. Whether that’s a good start depends on the weather. European TV goes to commercials after the 15th racer. She’s hoping that if it’s snowing, course workers will be slipping the track during the break.Her Rossignols are running well, and she is ready for a downhill on U.S. soil.”I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Vonn said. “Downhill is a very fun event. It draws the most attention as far as spectators. Since the downhill came here, I’ve felt more energy.”


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