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Vail’s Lindsey Vonn on Friday finished up a training session on Golden Peak in Vail and promptly declared herself pain-free and fully recovered from a blown right knee suffered at the World Championships in Austria last February.
Vonn said her super-G is as good as it’s ever been, but that her downhill skiing still needs some work before she returns to World Cup action Nov. 29 – Dec. 1 on the brand-new “Raptor” course at nearby Beaver Creek.
“It would be huge for me if I could win in Beaver Creek,” said the 29-year-old Vonn. “Obviously, that’s expecting a lot with my first race back, but I feel like I don’t have any pressure honestly. I’m coming back from injury. I’m not really nervous. I don’t feel pressure.”
Vonn got in her first training on a full-length downhill course the last two days at Copper Mountain, and she hopes to get out on the new Beaver Creek course in the coming days to make up for lost training time on the track last spring.
After skipping the season-opening giant slalom (GS) in Soelden, Austria, late last month, Vonn is also taking a pass on a slalom race in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 16. Her season gets under way at Beaver Creek with three downhill training days Nov. 26-28 and the opening downhill race of the season on Friday, Nov. 29, followed by a super-G and a GS Nov. 30-Dec. 1.
“I honestly don’t feel it,” Vonn said of her knee. “I don’t do anything differently because of my knee. I’m training as if I’m 100 percent healthy, which I am, so it’s business as usual for me and it’s not getting swollen, it doesn’t hurt, and I don’t feel it.”
But she added that her Vail-based surgeon, Dr. William Sterett, hasn’t yet cleared her to ski without a knee brace.
“It’s in my best interest to play it safe, so I compromised and said as long as I don’t have to wear it for the Olympics I’ll be fine,” Vonn said. “But yeah, my knee feels really good.”
After nearly nine months of grueling rehab, Vonn said she even surprised herself a little with how quickly she’s recovered.
“Rehab is not very fun,” she said. “It’s just a lot of grinding and a lot of repetition and as many sessions as you can get in in a day. It’s tough, but I fought through it and Sochi was definitely what was burned into my brain — the thing that I was working for all summer.”
The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February will be Vonn’s fourth Winter Games. As a 17-year-old in Salt Lake City in 2002, she turned in the top result for an American woman with a sixth in the combined event. Then came a devastating training crash at the Torino Games in 2006 that put her in the hospital and cost her any hope of a medal. Finally, at Vancouver in 2010, Vonn became the first American woman to win gold in the downhill, also claiming bronze in super-G.
She was injured with a bad case of “shin-bang,” or a deeply bruised shin, heading into those races at Whistler, but Vonn persevered. She admitted the pressure was enormous heading into those Games, and says it will be a totally different scenario in Sochi.
“It’s very different because I already have the gold medal, so I feel like the pressure’s off,” Vonn said. “My childhood dream has been to win a gold medal in the Olympics, and I already accomplished that, so everything from here on out is just icing on the cake.”
That includes surpassing retired Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell for the all-time women’s World Cup victory mark.
“It would be really great to be able to get those four wins this year, but I’m not expecting it, and that’s not my focus,” said Vonn, who has won 59 times on the World Cup circuit, just three shy of tying Moser-Proell’s 62 wins. “My focus is definitely on Sochi.”
Asked if her pursuit of the overall World Cup mark was comparable to her boyfriend Tiger Woods’ pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record for most major wins in golf, Vonn said she wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know; we’re both chasing something,” Vonn said. “For me, I’m not really focused on that right now, and I honestly can’t speak for him and what his focus is, but it’s kind of cool and it would be great if we would both break the record. That would be pretty significant.”
A reporter followed up by asking if they’ve ever talked about it.
“Not really,” she said. “It’s one of those unspoken things.”
Vonn is not sure yet what World Cup races Woods will attend, or whether he’ll be at the Olympics.
“I’m not sure yet,” she said, adding his presence wouldn’t significantly change the dynamic for her. “We’re trying to still sort out if he’ll come to some races or not, but I don’t foresee it being a problem. I don’t know; I think it will be fine.”