Lindsey Vonn claims inaugural victory on home turf

07 December 2011 17:08

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – Lindsey Vonn has heard her national anthem a lot. Wednesday marked the 46th time she’s heard it after winning a World Cup but the first time ever to hear it after winning a major race in her home country. Naming it “one of the most important races” of her career, with her heart hammering in her chest down the entire course, Vonn claimed her first World Cup U.S. victory in the Beaver Creek super-G on Wednesday. She also became the first American ski racer to win four straight World Cup races.

Making a couple of mistakes getting low on the top of the course, Vonn built speed in the second half of the Birds of Prey super G track – where the women were racing for the first time – and crossed the finish line in 1 minute, 10.68 seconds.

Switzerland’s Fabienne Suter put a closer margin between herself and Vonn than anyone else to take second Wednesday, 0.37 seconds off the winning pace and Austria’s Anna Fenninger was right there once again. After finishing just 0.19 seconds behind Vonn in Sunday’s super G at Lake Louise, Fenninger charged the brand new course at Beaver Creek to round out the podium, 0.41 seconds back.

When cameras turned onto Vonn in the start gate Wednesday, she was breathing heavily and frantically opening and closing her hands on the grips of her poles. She said the anxiety she felt was more than she’s ever had in any ski race.

“On the start, I was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been. I tried my best to keep it together,” she said. “It wasn’t my best run; I went off-course a couple of times but I just charged at the bottom and was able to make up time. I wanted to win at home so badly. I wanted to win on a men’s course. I wanted to prove to everyone here at home that I could win no matter what, under any circumstances. There are just so many reasons why today is so special. I’m so proud to have won.”

Replacing the super G originally scheduled for Val d’Isere this weekend, the Birds of Prey course was new to the women’s World Cup. Featuring a course set by Italy, the track started below the men’s super G start, under the steepest section (called The Brink) in the area called Pete’s Arena. Rather than going over the massive Golden Eagle jump and through the dark section called The Abyss, the women took a detour on a slope with a similar pitch (unofficially dubbed “the Chicken Wing”) and then back onto the men’s course at the bottom of The Abyss before the Harrier and Red Tail jumps.

“There’s no jumps but it’s always coming at you,” Vonn said of the course. “It’s just really technical. Speeds are pretty high for a super G course. There’s flats, there’s side hills, there’s terrain … Beaver creek has everything in this course.”

Suter, who hadn’t finished on the podium since January 2010 in the St. Moritz downhill, described the Beaver Creek course as “beautiful.”

“It was a little bit difficult for us, because we knew it’s a man’s slope but I really enjoyed the run,” Suter said. “I had a good feeling on the steep part, that’s a little more my part than in the flat. You have to take a lot of speed into the flat part. It’s the whole package.”

As far as never racing at Beaver Creek and coming into Wednesday’s race somewhat blind with only Tuesday’s free-ski and the morning’s course inspection, Suter said it’s that much more exciting.

“I like that a little bit,” she said. “When I was younger I did only super G and GS, no downhill. It’s always a special feeling because you have no line from the downhill in your head, so you just go there and watch your line for the super G.”

Fenninger described the course as “really fun” and said it’s nice to finish close to Vonn for the second straight race because she knows that the American is not unbeatable.

“Maybe the next time we will go closer and closer and we can beat her,” Fenninger said, adding that it was a thrill to race on the men’s slope. “The steep section was very fast and a little dark, so you have to change very fast from turn to turn. It was fun for a super G. It’s difficult because we don’t know how the slope is, how fast you can go, how much risk you need.”

Switzerland’s Martina Schild ended up fourth Wednesday, 0.90 seconds back, her best result since her SG podium in Haus im Ennstal in January 2010, which came right before she tore ligaments in her left knee and was out for the rest of the season. Schild also missed a few weeks of training this fall when she injured the same knee.

The rest of the field was more than a second off the winning pace Wednesday. Andrea Fischbacher’ came in fifth, 1.23 seconds back. Fraenzi Aufdenblatten, who came back from injury last season, posted her top result since early 2010 as well in sixth, 1.24 seconds back as her Swiss teammate Dominique Gisin had another solid race in seventh, 1.25 seconds back. Julia Mancuso, who also said she enjoyed the Birds of Prey course, followed up Sunday’s podium with an eighth place, 1.48 seconds back as Jessica Lindell-Vikarby was ninth, 1.64 seconds back and Elisabeth Goergl took 10th, 1.66 seconds back.

Some surprises in Wednesday’s race included that of Viktoria Rebensburg, who is the closest to Vonn in the overall standings with 286 points to Vonn’s 522. The German took fourth in both downhill races in Lake Louise last weekend and rarely misses gates. But she was one of nine ladies on the DNF list Wednesday, which also included Lara Gut, who said she was risking a lot at the top of the course when she skied off. Anja Paerson had another surprisingly poor performance on Wednesday, finishing 33rd while 2011 World Cup overall champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch crossed the finish line and stooped over in disappointment, finishing 21st.

Go here for race action highlights!

Go here for video interviews with Vonn, Suter and Fenninger.

Go here for full race results.

by Shauna Farnell