ALBERTA

Lindsey Vonn gains confidence with every training run in Lake Louise

12/04/2014 04:16 EST | Updated 02/03/2015 05:59 EST
LAKE LOUISE, Alta. - Unlike the men's World Cup downhill in Lake Louise, Alta., the women are not short on rehearsals for their race Friday.

Getting in a full three training runs for the first women's downhill of the World Cup season was a luxury, considering weather wiped out two of three practice sessions for the men last week.

Those women who arrived at the Alberta ski resort feeling behind in their prep felt the advantage of getting three reps down the 3,097-metre track.

Among them were U.S. ski star Lindsey Vonn and Canada's lone downhiller Larisa Yurkiw. Both had knee surgeries earlier this year that pushed back their return to snow in the fall.

"It was really important because I really haven't had that much training," Vonn said Thursday after the final training run. "I started skiing only on October first and I've had only a handful of downhill days and most of those days were in pretty soft conditions.

"I'm just trying to get a feel for everything and also ski a bit more aggressively every day, so by tomorrow I can really push myself and be comfortable pushing myself."

Anna Fenninger was the fastest Thursday in one minute 50.29 seconds ahead of Austrian teammate Mirjam Puchner in 1:50.69.

Americans Stacey Cook, Julia Mancuso and Laurenne Ross ranked third to fifth respectively with Vonn 13th. Yurkiw of Owen Sound, Ont., was 41st.

"It's nice to start the season off with three training runs because I really need that," said Yurkiw, who had surgeries on her right knee in March and June. "These count as mileage for me."

A second downhill is scheduled for Saturday followed by super-G on Sunday. The forecast for Friday's race is a mix of sun and cloud and a high of minus-7.

About 70 centimetres of snow fell on Lake Louise over 48 hours prior to the men's races. There's been little precipitation since then so the course has become harder and faster for the women.

Double Olympic gold medallist Tina Maze of Slovenia did not train Thursday after posting the fastest time in training the previous day. Austria's Ramona Siebenhofer crashed Thursday and was helicoptered off the mountain with a shoulder injury.

It's common for training runs to be cancelled because of weather or other developments. The first of three for the women in Lake Louise last year was called off because a snowstorm in Colorado delayed their arrival from another race.

The men's second training run in 2013 at Lake Louise didn't happen because a ski lift broke down and the racers couldn't get to the start hut.

Of Vonn's 59 career World Cup victories, 14 came in Lake Louise. The 30-year-old is just three away from matching a record of 62 World Cup wins held by Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria.

Vonn has won the overall World Cup four times in her career and became the first American woman to win Olympic gold in downhill in 2010.

But she's raced seldom since tearing a pair of ligaments in her right knee while racing super-G at the 2013 world alpine ski championships.

Her attempted comeback for the 2014 Winter Games stalled when she tore one of the reconstructed ligaments while training last November. She sprained a knee ligament during a race a month later.

Vonn underwent another knee surgery and did not defend her title in Sochi, Russia.

She has said this week she would consider a top-five result in the first downhill Friday both a success and a green light to go faster Saturday and Sunday.

While some women stay tight in their tuck right to the finish line in training, Vonn was among those who eased up and stood up well before the finish.

"I'm not going to go 100 per cent before race day," she said. "I always like to know I have something left in the tank for race day. I never like to show all my cards in the training runs.

"Training is training and racing is racing and I'm looking forward to trying to ski the best that I can tomorrow and shooting for a top five."

Yurkiw was seventh in a downhill last year in Lake Louise, which was one of the best results of her career. It was also one of the two top-12 finishes she achieved to qualify for the Olympic Games.

A catastrophic knee injury in 2009 kept Yurkiw from racing for almost two years. She injured her right knee again just prior to February's Winter Games in Sochi, but raced through it and placed 20th in downhill.

After a trio of training runs at Lake Louise. Yurkiw was still looking to find ways to get faster for race day.

"My consistency isn't quite there and I think it's pretty natural to have some bobbles," Yurkiw said. "We're getting there.

"Today was a little hairy in places but I think some places were quite a bit better and something I could work with."

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