Lindsey Vonn was back.
We all have our special place somewhere that gives us peace and confidence. Somewhere we feel truly at home where we can do no wrong. The ever-grey skies and rolling, pitching terrain of the downhill run in Lake Louise ironically known as "Men's Olympic" are that home to Lindsey Vonn.
Vonn's desire to race against the men in Lake Louise brought a wave of attention to alpine ski racing this fall; interestingly enough, most of it was supportive. Knowing her prowess in Lake Louise, few were bold enough to speak out against her chances. But her hopes were dashed when the International Ski Federation turned down the request.
After a tough opener in Soelden, Austria going out in the giant slalom she had won 12 months earlier Vonn came down with a gastrointestinal ailment in early November that hit her like a brick. She missed strategic training and came to the Nature Valley Aspen Winternational Thanksgiving weekend still visibly weak. She left Aspen 53rd in the World Cup overall standings after gaining her first 10 points of the season.
Champions like Lindsey Vonn, though, are resilient and focused. She just needed that special place on a hill she owned, a bit removed from the mainstream hustle and bustle of the White Circus. She needed that place where she could regroup and set a course to defend her Audi FIS Alpine World Cup crown.
On the opening day of training she made a statement - .95 seconds faster than the field. On the first of three race days a nasty, windy, snowy, foggy afternoon in the Canadian Rockies she left her mark with a 1.73-second win, more than half a football field ahead of teammate Stacey Cook!
In a rematch a day later, it was a bit tougher. Already down .24 seconds to Cook, she came wide into the Fishnet turn, almost clipping the safety fence with her ski tails as she chucked her Head skis to a near complete stop.
That error cost her a full second, maybe more. Her win streak at Lake Louise was over, or so it seemed. Well, not exactly. In true Lindsey fashion, she won every split time from there to the bottom to take lucky World Cup win No. 13 at Lake Louise.
By the time of Sunday's super G, there was no one left to doubt that Lindsey Vonn was back. She won that race, too, for a World Cup record seventh straight at Lake Louise. It was her 56th World Cup victory, passing Switzerland's Vreni Schneider for second on the all-time women's World Cup list behind only Annemarie Moser Proell's 62. And she moved from 53rd to second in the World Cup overall standings, breathing down the neck of Slovenia's Tina Maze.
Who knows if we'll ever see her in the men's starting gate at Lake Louise. But one thing's for sure: Never count out Lindsey Vonn at her home in Lake Louise.
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as Vice President, Communications for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he's not traveling the world with the Team.