Vonn soars highest in Cortina downhill, but it was big air for all
Lindsey Vonn reached the sky in Saturday's downhill in Cortina, winning the 30th race of her World Cup career, but everyone in the race got a surprising amount of air time over the biggest jump on the course.
"That's the thing with the jumps here. Everyone flies pretty far in the training runs but it's always on race day that everyone's charging harder, you have faster wax on and that jump always carries more than you expect. I definitely did the window roll-down," said Vonn, who beat Maria Riesch by 0.42 seconds, building speed throughout her run to win the race in the bottom split before the finish.
Even racers in the tightest tucks ended up pedaling their hands a bit before landing the jump, which comes after the steepest part of the course called Tofana.
"The problem is we're landing on the flat," said Switzerland's Fraenzi Aufdenblatten, who was seventh Saturday within a very tight group of top 8 finishers, all within two tenths of a second from the podium, which was also shared by Anja Paerson and Nadja Kamer, who tied for third place, 0.86 seconds behind Vonn.
"In the race we're taking a little bit more risk so that jump, it's like a rocket," Aufdenblatten said, adding that the jump is part of what makes Cortina one of the most exciting courses on the downhill circuit. "The bad thing is because you know it's going to be that flat so it's like, 'Woah.' It's really preparing every muscle you have to be ready and hoping that you're in the right spot. Because if you're behind, you have a lot of time to think because you can't do anything [in the air]."
Riesch, who had never done better than 10th in the Cortina downhill, said she has come a long way refining her form over jumps. Still, the post-Tofana jump gave her a little jolt and despite her aerodynamic tuck, one hand started flapping a bit before the landing.
"That was HUGE, I was a little bit shocked," she said. "When I was younger, I was not a good jumper. Always I was like this [leaning back] or my skis went up and now I always try to have perfect tension right when I get air. I always lift my legs a little bit because when I push it down I don't find the right place, then I get a rebound. Sometimes I'm flying higher and wider, but I'm always compact."
With her weak knee weighing heavily on her mind, the big jump was a large factor in the mental obstacles that plagued Paerson all day ... before and during the race.
"I told one of my coaches at the top that it's a 50-50 chance that I'm in the net or in the finish today," Paerson said. "I tried to be aggressive but I was really nervous over that jump. As you see today, everyone is like three or four meters [off the ground] and you're just straightening your body because you want to land. Sometimes you have some stuff in your head, you just don't see your line clearly and you just don't get your plan in there perfectly. I'm just happy to be down and happy to be on the podium today."
As for the 0.42 seconds by which she lost the victory, Riesch is convinced it's because her skis didn't carry her quickly enough through the flats at the bottom of the course ... because her run was close to perfect.
"I had a nearly perfect run but still ... until the last intermediate it seemed like maybe she [Vonn] was slower," Riesch said. "I'm sure it's the skis in the flats. I'm sure. Because how can you explain four tenths? That's a lot for one section. I had a good run. I didn't make a mistake or anything."
When asked if she would consider trying longer skis, Riesch said it would be a risky time to do so right before the Olympics.
"It's tough now to start thinking about it," she said. "Maybe I'll try it in St. Moritz in the training run ... once. But it's a hard decision now because I'm coming along good with my equipment and it's so short before the Olympic Games."
The FIS Audi women's World Cup wraps up Sunday in Cortina with giant slalom.
by Shauna Farnell