Lindsey Vonn felt pressure to win the season-opening World Cup downhill at Lake Louise, even though she is the most dominant ski racer there.
When the American ski star crossed the finish line Friday in a blistering time that no one was going to beat, Vonn looked to the sky and pumped her fists in a gesture of both vindication and relief.
Vonn had upped the ante for herself at Lake Louise by asking the world governing body of skiing if she could race in the men’s World Cup last weekend. She was denied by FIS, but hasn’t given up on that dream.
Vonn believes the best argument for her to race the men is to keep winning the women’s races at Lake Louise by large margins.
“When you say you want to race the men, you can’t really not win the women’s races,” Vonn said. “I knew that and I definitely was trying to prove a point, I think mostly to myself, but to everyone else who doesn’t think I should race with the men.
“Hopefully it works out. Maybe it won’t, but I think my skiing will speak for itself.”
With a time of one minute 52.61 seconds, Vonn was a commanding 1.73 seconds faster than U.S. teammate and runner-up Stacey Cook, who earned her World Cup medal.
Cook was just a hundredth faster than Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein who tied for third in 1:54.35.
Vonn collected her 12th career victory and has landed on the podium 18 times at Lake Louise.
The 28-year-old from Burnsville, Minn., will race another downhill Saturday and in Sunday’s super-G. The reigning World Cup and Olympic champion swept all three races last year.
Vonn had skipped the final training run at Lake Louise because she felt unwell Thursday. She says it was a continuation of the stomach pain that hospitalized her Nov. 12 for two nights in Colorado.
“It’s just that my stomach is really sensitive, so I had some funny eggs or, I don’t really know what it was,” she explained. “It seems like it doesn’t really matter what I eat, something can sometimes trigger it. I definitely wasn’t feeling well yesterday.
“I didn’t do the training run which I’ve never done before in my life, so I was nervous today. I know this hill better than anywhere else in the world and I gave it my best shot and was really happy with my run.”
Friday’s race was paused several times due to deteriorating visibility at the top of the course. With 25 racers down the hill, one long delay sparked concerns the race would have to be cancelled, which could have nullified all results.
The race resumed, but it made for a long afternoon Canadian Larisa Yurkiw. She was the last of the 51 women down the mountain and the Owen Sound, Ont., skier finished 44th.
Yurkiw returned to the World Cup late last season after a knee injury sidelined her for two years. The 24-year-old is trying to work her way back into the world’s elite.
“I definitely didn’t even come close to meeting my goal, so that’s really disappointing,” said Yurkiw. “For me to come in 44th, it’s just so far from what I’m capable of and that’ll drive me tomorrow.”
Her stomach problems and the training interruptions that caused had drained Vonn of some of her energy. She was 21st in a giant slalom last week in Aspen, Colo., before arriving in Lake Louise.
“It seemed like everything was going wrong,” Vonn said. “It’s hard sometimes to believe that you’re going to turn things around.
“I just keep fighting and every day, I keep trying my best. I was just so happy I was able to come out today and ski the way I wanted to. It was just a big sigh of relief.”
Cook, 28, collapsed into her mother Sharon’s arms and cried when she realized she would stand on a World Cup podium for the first time in her career.
“Someone told me this was my 150th World Cup start. One hundred and fifty tries to get on the podium,” Cook exclaimed. “Nine years of it. It’s a long time coming and my parents they come to one race every three years. For them to choose this one was really special.
“I’ve battled so much in my career and most of the battles have been within myself, just figuring out how to compete with these girls that seemed to be so much more gift than me, and trying to overcome that.”
So now the question now is, can Vonn execute another Lake Louise hat trick?
“The only thing I’m concerned about at this point is my energy level and trying to make sure I have enough energy for the next couple of days,” she said.
“It was a long time standing out in the cold today and hopefully I can just get some good recovery in today and maintain what I have and be able to ski the way I want to.”