SPORTS

Lake Louise the launching pad in Lindsey Vonn's second comeback from injury

12/02/2014 04:58 EST | Updated 02/01/2015 05:59 EST
LAKE LOUISE, Alta. - Lindsey Vonn put her arms in the air and gave a cheer in the finish area Tuesday in Lake Louise, Alta.

It's been a while since the world's most recognizable woman on skis felt that happy after crossing the finish line.

Vonn finished a modest 18th in the first of three scheduled training runs for the season-opening women's World Cup downhill Friday. The American was 1.82 seconds back of leader Lotte Smiseth Sejersted of Norway.

Tina Maze of Slovenia was second and Mirjam Puchner of Austria was third. The lone Canadian, Larisa Yurkiw of Owen Sound, Ont., was 40th.

What Vonn celebrated was her knee feeling its strongest since her high-speed crash during a super-G race at the 2013 world alpine ski championships. The four-time overall World Cup champion will race for the first time in almost a year Friday.

Another downhill is scheduled for Saturday followed by Sunday's super-G.

"This is really the first race back that I've been 100 per cent," Vonn said Tuesday at the mountain resort west of Calgary. "All my ligaments are intact right now and I feel really good. I'm just having fun and enjoying being back on the World Cup."

Vonn tore a pair of ligaments in her right knee and broke a bone in that leg when she crashed Feb. 5, 2013. With the 2014 Sochi Games on the horizon and a desire to defend her Olympic downhill title, Vonn rushed her return following surgery.

Her comeback was on track until she tore one of the reconstructed ligaments just prior to the Lake Louise World Cup a year ago.

On a mountain where she's won 14 times in her career, Vonn finished 40th, 11th and fifth in the two downhills and a super-G respectively in Lake Louise. Spraining a knee ligament two weeks later in Val-d'Isere, France, forced Vonn to give up on competing in Sochi and undergo surgery again.

The 30-year-old says she did not push her return or take major risks this time. Vonn is racing with a brace on her right knee.

"I was very cautious with my progression on snow," Vonn said. "I found the rhythm pretty quickly. I'm taking it a little bit easier than I did last year. I'm not pushing it very much in training.

"I haven't had a lot of race training where I'm pushing myself 100 per cent. I've only had about two days of that."

If there's any woman who can throw her skis into high gear at Lake Louise, it's Vonn. She's twice achieved a Lake Louise hat trick of wining both downhills and the super-G in 2011 and 2012.

Her sweep in 2011 came a few days after she announced she was divorcing Thomas Vonn, her husband of four years. Vonn has been in a relationship for two years with Tiger Woods, who is golfing this week in the Hero World Challenge in Florida.

With a win streak of seven in a row at Lake Louise prior to her initial knee injury, the resort was dubbed "Lake Lindsey."

"I haven't been back here racing healthy for two years now and I finally feel really good," Vonn said. "I feel confident and I love Lake Louise. It's always been a place with amazing memories.

"I just have more confidence than last year obviously because of my health. I just feel a lot stronger than I was last year having blown out my knee for a second time."

At 59 World Cup victories, Vonn is three away from matching the record of 62 held by Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria.

Vonn once felt so confident in Lake Louise she'd asked the world governing body of the sport to let her compete in the men's World Cup on the same mountain. FIS denied her request.

Her expectations are more modest for Friday.

"The first race, I'm not really sure what to expect," Vonn said. "I'm hoping for a top-five. That would be great and then on the weekend hopefully progress and get a little bit faster, but it's hard for me to set expectations because I haven't been racing in so long.

"I'm just going to focus on good execution of my race and good skiing and hopefully that will be enough."

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