Lindsey Vonn returns to the ski resort dubbed “Lake Lindsey” determined to add to her wins, and also to compete against the men in the future.
With 11 victories, no other woman has won more World Cup ski races at Lake Louise than the American star. Vonn has also finished on the podium here 17 times since her first win in 2004.
The world governing body of skiing, FIS, denied her request to race in the men’s World Cup downhill and super-G on Saturday and Sunday.
Vonn must content herself trying to add to her pile of victories in the women’s downhills this Friday and Saturday and in Sunday’s super-G. She swept all three in 2011 for Lake Louise hat trick.
The 28-year-old won Tuesday’s first training run by almost a second over runner-up Maria Riesch-Hoefl of Germany. Dominique Gisin of Switzerland was third.
After clocking a top speed of 136.36 kilometres per hour, Vonn was wistful about what might have been has FIS given her the green light.
“You’d think in the year 2012 we can figure out a way to make it work,” she said. “Gender isn’t really an issue in pretty much all aspects of life now. I think there’s got to be a way to put aside gender and put aside pride and ego and do something I personally would love to do, but also I think would be great for the sport.”
The defending overall World Cup champion says her father Alan, a lawyer, is helping her look into legal avenues to racing against the men.
“We’re kind of trying to see if there’s another way to approach the situation,” she said. “It was definitely disappointing that FIS came out and said absolutely there’s no way.
“They pretty much shut me down on the basis of gender, so maybe there’s something to be found there. I’m doing some research, doing my homework, and we’ll see. It’s going to take a little time to get everything organized and figure out how to we approach it.”
Alpine Canada president Max Gartner was a vocal supporter of Vonn racing at Lake Louise. He said he’s had preliminary discussions with her sponsor Red Bull about the possibility of staging an exhibition mixed gender race.
“I’m really thankful Max has come out and supported me so strongly,” she said. “I’m really excited about the idea to do an exhibition, but to be honest, I really want to race in a real race.
“I want to actually compete in a normal situation where the same points are on the line. If my only option is to race an exhibition I will 100 per cent do that, but I’m still hoping to race in the actual World Cup.”
Vonn says that in hindsight, she might not have been able to compete in the men’s races at Lake Louise last weekend. A recent intestinal ailment hospitalized her for two nights and kept her off snow for several days.
She finished 21st in a giant slalom in Aspen, Colo., on Saturday and skipped the following day’s slalom to prepare for Lake Louise.
“When I cross the finish line, I’m still more out of breath than I normally would be and my legs are a bit more tired than normal.” she said Tuesday. “All in all, I’m still able, at least in downhill, to ski the way I want to. Aspen definitely didn’t go that well. I think by the weekend, I should be 100 per cent.”
Vonn has raced to victory at Lake Louise through trials and tribulations. Her sweep last year came a few days after she announced her divorce from Thomas Vonn, her husband of four years.
In 2009, Vonn crossed the finish line with blood dribbling from her mouth. Her knee connected with her chin during the race, yet Vonn still won the first of her two downhills that year.
Vonn executed an incredible piece of skiing in 2010 in a race she didn’t win. She went down on her left hip entering a section of the course named Fall Away, but made an impressive recovery on the slope’s face and actually made up time on the bottom section.
Vonn finished second in that downhill to Riesch-Hoefl. It was Vonn’s second runner-up result to the German in as many days, but Vonn wasn’t leaving Lake Louise without a victory. She won the super-G on the final day.
The confidence Vonn has in her abilities at Lake Louise can help her compensate for less-than-optimum health.
“I feel like no matter who the season starts or how I’m feeling, I can always come to Lake Louise and have a good race,” she said.
“I know what I’m doing and I trust myself a lot more here than I do anywhere else. It’s nice to stand in the start gate and know ’hey, I’ve won here a lot of times and I know what I’m doing and you just have to go.’
“I think that’s going to help me a lot this weekend despite being sick and not getting much training in. I know how to ski here and I know I can win.”
Larisa Yurkiw of Owen Sound, Ont., was 28th in the first training run. She’ll be the lone Canadian racing the downhills Friday and Saturday.
Marie-Pier Prefontaine of Saint Saveur, Que., and Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., are both slalom specialists and will compete in Sunday’s super-G.