LAKE LOUISE, Alta. - Lindsey Vonn raised her arms in the air, let out a whoop and fell flat on her back in celebration of an emotional World Cup downhill win Saturday.
The ski star led an American sweep of the podium in Lake Louise, Alta., with Stacey Cook second and Julia Mancuso third. Canada's Larisa Yurkiw came the closest to spoiling the U.S. party by finishing a career-best fourth.
Vonn claimed the 15th World Cup victory of her career at the Alberta ski resort, but this one was different. Since sweeping both downhills and super-G in 2012, Vonn underwent a pair of knee surgeries that limited her to less than a handful of races in the last year and a half.
When she arrived in Lake Louise this week, Vonn hadn't raced in almost a year.
The 30-year-old sobbed into the shoulder of her father Alan Kildow and other people on her support team when it was clear her time would hold up for the victory Saturday.
"Today was just an enormously happy day and also a big relief to know that I'm back and I still have the capability of winning," Vonn said.
Yurkiw's celebration was similar to Vonn's, minus the back flop in the finish area. After finishing 22nd in Friday's first downhill, the 26-year-old from Owen Sound, Ont., crossed the finish line less than two-tenths of a second from the podium.
"It's just such a validation to what I believe in my gut," Yurkiw said. "I've chosen to believe in myself and built a career around it. I'm really lucky that it's working."
Vonn's time was one minute 50.48 seconds. Cook was second in 1:50.97, Mancuso third in 1:51.05 and Yurkiw fourth in 1:51.22. Overall World Cup leader Tina Maze of Slovenia was eighth after winning Friday's downhill.
There were four American women in the top-10, but none on the podium in Friday's first downhill of the season. They swept the medals Saturday and put four in the top six with Edmonton-born Laurenne Ross finishing sixth.
The Audi World Cup Lake Louise concludes with Sunday's super-G.
Mancuso says the chemistry on the team works well when Vonn is on her game.
"We missed having someone so dominant around because you can always count on her to put in a good performance," Mancuso said.
"The rest of us on a good day, we're definitely contending for the podium, but Lindsey's proved that every day she's contending for the podium. It's nice to have that sort of energy and intensity. It's like OK 'Lindsey has her game face on so we need to put our game-face on.'"
Cook also returned to the podium in Lake Louise after finishing second in a pair of downhills two years ago.
"For North Americans, it's kind of the one spot where we have an advantage over the Europeans," she said. "That comes from Lake Louise being so supportive of junior racing.
"They host the Nor-Ams and for a junior racer to get on a World Cup track, it's the only place in North America that happens. We have a lot of experience here. We have a lot of runs on this hill. You learn what's fast and experience counts big time."
Yurkiw's catastrophic knee injury in 2009 kept her from racing for almost two years. She lost her spot on the Canadian ski team for the 2013-14 season, so Yurkiw raised money via sponsorships and raced solo to qualify for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
She regained her place on the national team as the lone downhiller for this season, but turned down financial support from Alpine Canada.
The organization runs the women's national team as a combination of speed and technical — slalom and giant slalom — racers. Yurkiw didn't want to join a program where downhill was not a priority.
Yurkiw's previous best results — a sixth and a seventh in downhills — came last year when she was on her own. Her expectations for Lake Louise this year were low. Yurkiw's return to snow in the fall was delayed because of a pair of off-season knee surgeries.
"I'm a racer so I come out and hope to be the fastest every day and sometimes you are and most of the time you're not, so I'm really happy with today's result," Yurkiw said.
"This is much beyond anything we could have hoped for this weekend. My coach was almost crying yesterday and he's like a man's man, so kind of awkward, but I think we're surpassing our goals. It opens up the season for an anything-is-possible year."
Vonn tore a pair of ligaments and broke a bone in her right leg racing super-G at the 2013 world alpine ski championships.
Her attempted comeback for the Winter Olympics stalled out when she tore one the reconstructed ligaments and then sprained a ligament last season. Vonn underwent a second knee surgery in January and did not defend her Olympic women's downhill title.
Lake Louise is a place where the four-time overall World Cup champion has dominated in the past. It delivered a welcome dose of confidence Saturday.
"It was a really long way, you know from being injured and two operations and coming back and coming back again and not quite knowing if I would get to be where I was before," she said. "
"You know I always believed in myself. I never gave up that belief but at the same time, it's hard not knowing."
With 60 career World Cup victories, Vonn is two away from matching the women's record of 62 held by Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria. Vonn denied that was on her mind Saturday.
"No, I just have to focus on the skiing," she said. "Every day has gotten better. I just have to keep building my confidence and keep working and everything will eventually come."