CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy (AP) – The Olympic downhill is little more than a month away and Lindsey Vonn is finally ready to start attacking at 100 percent again.
Forget that unusual image of the 78-time World Cup winner skiing cautiously amid difficult weather conditions in Austria last weekend.
Back on one of her favorite courses – she holds a record 11 wins in Cortina – Vonn is not planning to hold anything back entering a set of three speed races this weekend: downhills Friday and Saturday and then a super-G on Sunday.
“This snow is perfect. This hill is perfect. I have a lot of confidence here,” Vonn said Thursday after dominating downhill training for the second consecutive day.
“It’s a place where I can definitely push myself and ski more like my 100 percent self. I don’t need to be careful. I don’t need to worry about the risks. I’m just skiing like normal and I’m back to normal. This is how I ski when I am skiing well. It’s not like I’m not skiing well.”
In both training runs, Vonn’s advantage was nearly a full second – an eternity in ski racing.
It was a vast improvement from the ninth and 27th places that Vonn recorded in Bad Kleinkirchheim in a super-G and downhill, respectively, last weekend.
“Everything is good. I love racing here and it’s always fun for me to be here. It’s beautiful. It’s hard not to be happy,” said Vonn, who is wearing a Captain America themed racing suit this weekend with a big white star on her chest.
Aiming to save her best for the Feb. 21 downhill at the Pyeongchang Olympics, Vonn has had only one win this season – a super-G in Val d’Isere, France, more than a month ago.
She had a difficult start to the season with two crashes in Lake Louise, Alberta, then jarred her back in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
A day after her win in Val d’Isere, Vonn sat out another super-G because she didn’t feel comfortable with the conditions. Then she took four weeks off before returning in Bad Klein.
The two training runs in Cortina have shown that Vonn is still capable of taking risks when she wants to.
“My whole career I’ve never had a problem going to 100 percent,” Vonn said. “It’s being smart and controlling myself that has always been a problem. I feel like I’ve finally learned my lesson and I’ve been taking it easy to make sure that I can make it to the Olympics. Flipping the switch is something that comes very naturally to me.”
But how will she cope if the conditions in Pyeongchang are difficult?
“That’s what I’m working on with my equipment right now. I’ve been testing some things and trying to get a setup that I’m more comfortable with,” Vonn said. “I definitely was not comfortable and not comfortable risking anything. So I think that once I find a setup that’s a little bit better for icier conditions – just in case – then I’ll be ready for any condition in Pyeongchang.”
With the Olympics in mind, Vonn has set aside a pair of skis that she tested on icy conditions in Pyeongchang last season.
“I feel like I need a little bit more testing but in general I’m ready for any condition,” she said.
With the women’s technical events being held before the speed races in Pyeongchang – the opposite from recent Olympics, Vonn will be able to ease her way into the games.
She won’t race slalom but may enter the giant slalom to get a taste of the competition before going for gold in the super-G, downhill and combined.
“Three, maybe four (events),” Vonn said. “It just depends on how I feel.”
Also this weekend, overall World Cup leader Mikaela Shiffrin is entering the Cortina downhill for the first time, having finished fourth in the super-G on her first visit to Cortina last season.
Showing rapid improvement, Shiffrin moved up from 13th in the opening training run to fifth Thursday.
“I’m getting more and more comfortable and from here on out it’s just about the timing and hitting my switches in the right spot,” said Shiffrin, who claimed the first downhill victory of her career in Lake Louise in November.
Like Vonn, Shiffrin is using this weekend as a dry run for the Olympics.
“It’s important to be able to learn a track really well,” Shiffrin said. “I haven’t skied the Olympic track as well. So it’s sort of the same kind of thing where I’m trying to figure it out – inspect it, visualize it, ski it the way that I want to. And if I can execute that then I’ll feel more comfortable doing the speed at the Olympics.”