Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch returned to the top of the podium at Lake Louise with a victory in a World Cup women’s downhill Friday.
Hoefl-Riesch won a pair of downhills at the Alberta resort in 2010 before Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. went on a run of seven straight wins on the mountain.
But the American ski star was tentative. She finished well back in 40th in her first race since crashing and injuring her right knee at the world championship in February.
Hoefl-Riesch was fastest in the final training run for Friday’s downhill and carried her pace into the race.
“Since the very first time when I came here at the age of 18 or 19, I was always skiing good here and also had some wins and some podiums,” Hoefl-Riesch said.
“The last two years were a little bit difficult because the year before I was winning two races and one second. Last year and the year before was not perfect, but now it seems it’s really good for me again. It’s great that I had such a good run and finally went back to the podium here.
Hoefl-Riesch posted a winning time of one minute 56.03 seconds on a clear, but bitterly cold day. Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden of Switzerland was .70 seconds back in second and Elena Fanchini of Italy was third in 1:57.23.
A second downhill is scheduled for Saturday followed by a super-G on Sunday.
Larisa Yurkiw of Owen Sound, Ont., was Canada’s lone racer and she delivered a career-best seventh.
Yurkiw was 51st in the start order and was initially tied for eighth with Stefanie Moser of Austria when the Canadian crossed the finish line. The disqualification of Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein in fifth bumped them up the rankings.
The result was a triumph for Yurkiw, who was dropped from the Canadian ski team after last season. The 25-year-old raised about $150,000 on her own to fund her summer ski camps in Europe and pay for her own coaching and training expenses.
Yurkiw embarked on the ambitious plan to find deep-pocketed sponsors because she wasn’t ready to give up on her dream of competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
She wasn’t able to race in the 2010 Winter Games because of a catastrophic knee injury suffered just a few weeks before the opening ceremonies. Yurkiw needs one more top-12 result to meet Alpine Canada’s criteria for nomination to the Olympic team.
“Today feels like a dream,” Yurkiw said. “I had this number seven in my head for some reason all day. When I came down in eighth I forgot about it and then someone mentioned I moved up one.
“I was thinking riding up the chair that the pressure is so high, but finally I can say I’m doing a good job of staying focused on the things that matter and the things that will make me fast. That part I’m really proud of.
“I always admired people who were able to perform under pressure and I’m really happy I feel like I joined the club.”
Lake Louise is nicknamed “Lake Lindsey” because Vonn’s 14 victories here are more than any other skier at one venue.
The reigning Olympic champion has charged through trials and tribulations to some of those victories, but she lacked her characteristic aggression Friday.
“I was definitely very nervous having my first race in 10 months,” Vonn said. “I was really optimistic that I could come down and first race right out of the blocks win. It was wishful thinking, but might as well shoot for the best.
“I was just too nervous. I was really tight and I skied that way. I wasn’t in a really deep tuck and pushing the line where I could have. I just kind of skied it. That’s not my style and not how I attack a race.
“I think tomorrow is going to be a whole other story. I’m going to be much more relaxed and hopefully more confident and able to ski more aggressively and more like myself.”
Vonn tore ligaments in knee and broke a bone in her lower leg when she crashed in the super-G at the world championships in Schladming, Austria.
She partially tore a ligament in her surgically repaired knee while training in November, which kept her out of the first downhill race in Beaver Creek, Colo.
Hoefl-Riesch and Vonn are friends as well as rivals. The German thought Vonn felt confident because Vonn had skipped the last training run.
“Of course, it’s not an easy situation for her,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “She wants to keep the season going and take a chance for the Olympics. Of course, she needs to do races.
“I hope that she can get more confident for her knee. I spoke to her and she said her knee was kind of bothering her. Difficult situation for her definitely.”
But when Vonn was asked after the race how her knee felt, she replied “fine.”
The temperature was minus 25 for the race, but windchill pushed it to minus 31. The race was an hour late starting because of a pair of 30-minute delays.
The first was to allow the temperature to rise a degree or two. The second was because the resort’s snow guns created ice fog over the upper sections of the course. The racers had to wait for it to dissipate.
Hoefl-Riesch had just got on the chairlift to the start hut when she heard of the delay. Rather than freeze at the top of the mountain, she stopped in at one of the lift houses to stay warm and passed the time chatting to a lift worker.
“I was talking to the lift guy, who was from New Zealand,” she said. “It was an interesting conversation.”
Follow us on Twitter: