Vonn takes well-deserved respite | ParkRecord.com

Vonn takes well-deserved respite

Paul Robbins, Special to the Record

This might be the week you bump into women’s alpine World Cup co-leader Lindsey Vonn at Park City Market. or Red Rocks or Main Street Deli.

She and husband Thomas already gave each other their Valentine’s Day gift – they flew home from Italy Monday so she could recharge her mental batteries and rest her fire-horse racing instincts for a week. And do her laundry.

Vonn won her fifth race of the season Saturday and, even after finishing 16th Sunday in super-G, still was in a tie for the points lead. With Bode Miller, also a Park City homeowner (among his other pieds a terre), leading the men, it marked the first time U.S. skiers have led both standings since 1983 when Phil Mahre and Tamara McKinney won the crystal globes as overall champion.

She misses just one race by grabbing some valuable down-time at home this week – a slalom Friday in Zagreb, Croatia. So, deadlocked with Nicole Hosp, the Austrian and defending overall champion, Vonn figures she’ll lose some points in the short run – Hosp is the slalom leader, too — but she’ll make up for it a month from now as the season ends.

"The overall is going to come down to the last week," she said Saturday. Twelve races remain: three downhills, a super-G, two super combined events (downhill and one run of slalom in one day), three slaloms and two giant slaloms.

Regardless of who wins, and barring injury (Vonn — then Lindsey Kildow — missed the final month of the ’07 season with a knee injury as she was among challengers for the overall), it’ll be tight at the top.

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After 27 of 39 women’s races, Vonn and Hosp have 983 points apiece. Vonn is the runaway (ski-off?) leader in downhill with a 252-point margin over Austrian Renate Goetschl. In other words, with three DHs left, Vonn needs a fourth-place finish to clinch the title. She also leads the combined points and there are two combined events remaining; a discipline needs three competitions before a World Cup crown is awarded.

But World Cup titles aren’t Vonn’s main concern. Skiing well is.

"I figure if I’m skiing well, the podiums and victories — and the titles, all of that stuff — will take care of itself," she said. "I just want to ski my best every run, ski clean [i.e., no mistakes]. It’s pretty basic, but if I ski my best and don’t have any big mistakes, I should be okay."

Her victory Saturday — the 12th of her increasingly brilliant career — was her ninth in downhill. That tied her with childhood idol Picabo Street and Daron Rahlves for the U.S. mark. Her dozen victories are second on the alltime U.S. women’s list behind McKinney.

When she’s done letting her nerves unwrinkle this week, and letting her inner fires get re-banked, Vonn will head to Whistler Mountain, north of Vancouver and the Olympic alpine venue for the 2010 Winter Games. The women will have a downhill Feb. 22 and super combined, mixing a super-G and one run of slalom, on the 24th.

A look-back at the weekend in Sestriere, Italy:

Saturday (downhill) — Racing on the men’s Olympic course from 2006, but starting a bit lower on the hill, she walloped everyone. She had the fastest time in the last training run Friday and produced a winning time Saturday of 1:38.86. Canadian Kelly VanderBeek, better known for her super-G results, was second (1:39.48).

Vermonter Chelsea Marshall came out of the No. 40 start and snatched her first World Cup points, finishing an eye-opening eighth. Winter Sports School alum Julia Mancuso was 22nd.

"It was definitely bumpy in some turns, but I was pretty clean. You had to be clean – you couldn’t make mistakes," Vonn said, "because there’s no place to make up for a mistake…

"That’s what makes it challenging — you have to be on it all the way, glide well, make clean turn. You can’t afford any mistake."

Added speed Coach Alex Hoedlmoser, noting her confidence, "Lindsey is pretty much unbeatable now. The only thing that could have beaten her here was herself."

Vonn took the overall points lead by three points over Hosp. At the 2006 Olympics, the women’s speed races were in San Sicario. Vonn took a terrible beater in training, spent a night in the hospital and returned race, but didn’t medal. Last year, she went back to San Sicario and won a super-G on that hill, helping purge any lingering bad memories.

Sunday (super-G) – Vonn got hit by a headwind up top and never had the same rhythm as 24 hours earlier. She finished 14th while Swiss skier Fabienne Suter and Austrian Andreas Fischbacher tied for the win — the first for each — with identical clockings of 1:21.06. Germany’s Maria Riesch, one of Vonn’s closest pals on the tour (friends since junior days, they spent Christmas at the Riesch home in Germany), was third in 1:21.30.

Hosp was 14th and moved into a tie with Vonn — 18 points for 14th place, 15 for 16th, so they came into this week knotted at the top of the standings. While Vonn cools her jets, Hosp will be revving her engine Friday in Croatia, then making the long trek to Vancouver.

Manuso had the top U.S. result Sunday, finishing eighth in 1:21.90. Stacey Cook was 24th and Leanne Smith, the defending NorAm DH champion, finished 27th.

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