Vonn wins third straight downhill title
Roger Moore owns a chalet directly to the skiers left of the finish area in Crans Montana, Switzerland. But today, on a day of difficult weather conditions, when racers went through a steady fall of wet snowflakes that fell heavily out of the foggy sky, he stood in the finish to watch the ladies downhill holding up an umbrella.
He witnessed Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn's win after she almost lost to Italian Johanna Schnarf, racing in bib Nr. 32. The Italian rocketed to 2nd place to finish a mere 1/100 of a second behind Vonn. Switzerland's Marianne Abderhalden, who has only finished 2 World Cup downhills in her career (best result was a 27th place in 2006 in Are), rounded out the podium, 0.38 behind Vonn. Germany's Maria Riesch ended up sixth. It was an exciting race day that held some surprises in store.
American Lindsey Vonn knew she could clinch her third consecutive downhill title before the Finals in Garmisch-Partenkirchen if she keeps her lead of more than 100 points (which is the total number of points awarded for a World Cup victory) over Riesch. Heading into Saturday's downhill race, Vonn (545 points) led in the two-woman battle for the crystal discipline globe over German Maria Riesch (416 points) by 129 points.
After having won already six World Cup downhills this season as well as the Olympic downhill, chances were good for the outstanding American skier to lock up the downhill standings even before the Finals next week start. The 25-year-old Vonn won on the downhill course in Crans Montana, Switzerland two years ago and did it again on Saturday, to earn her 32nd World Cup career victory (tying Bode Miller regarding number of career World Cup wins).
However, this time some of the speed skiers from the back of the field came dangerously close to Vonn who started 16th in a field of 48 and posted the fastest time in 1:35.26, nearly a full second ahead of then-leader Nadia Kamer of Switzerland.
For a while, none of the World Cup's other top contenders could touch the American leader who wore a pink cheetah print speed suit for today's race. Anja Paerson skidded to a halt off-course seemingly distracted by the wet snow caked onto her goggles.
Maria Riesch made it down to the finish in second, trailing Vonn by 0.64 seconds. "Under these conditions and with the mistake I made in the top section of the course where I skied outside the line and was slowed down due to the snow accumulations, I am quite happy with my time," the tall, graceful German said. "I was struggling somewhat in training and had to make adjustments with regard to my skis so I am glad I was able to step it up a notch".
Winds with consequences for race result
A dramatic change of conditions (head winds changed to more favorable tail winds halfway through the race) in the top part of the course allowed several skiers in the back of the field to post impressive times, including Italy's Johanna Schnarf, the 32nd racer on course, who fired down and led at every split to eventually cross the finish line with the second fastest run time only a mere 0.01 seconds behind Vonn's.
Marianne Abderhalden of Switzerland in bib No. 37 put down one of the fastest runs in her career to finish 0.38 seconds back in third. Then racer No. 42, Marusa Ferk of Slovenia came dangerously close but finished just off the podium in fourth, 0.39 back and Olympic giant slalom champion Viktoria Rebensburg (GER) ended up fifth, 0.61 seconds back.
Vonn said afterwards that she believed conditions were not the same for all racers and that it got faster throughout the race. "I had head winds in the top section of the course, which slowed me down but that is sports and you always have to make the best out of every situation". "I am really happy I was able to stay in first place until the very end of the race," Vonn added.
Vonn's hunt for the globes
The American Olympic downhill champion has now secured the super G, downhill and, unofficially (decision will be made next week at Cup finals in Garmisch), the super combined globes.
"To be an Olympic champion and have done so well on the World Cup circuit is fantastic. I'm also happy to have been able to stay very focused and put down another strong run this morning," Vonn said.
"This is the result of hard work in summer leading up to season. I practiced a lot, did not go out with friends, did not have much of a social life and really only focused on skiing trying to always get better," Vonn explained answering questions regarding her supremacy this season. "I try to copy the men's way of skiing. My role model is Didier Cuche as he is a smart, consistent skier."
"In a few weeks, I will be able to relax and forget about ski racing. I have a busy schedule ahead of me in terms of presentations, TV shows, parties and so on. But then, I hope to take a much longer break than in recent years. Last summer I trained sometimes six to eight hours a day six days a week to be fully ready for this Olympic season, but now I have to look for something else to stay fully motivated and happy to race in coming years," said the American who has already planned to keep on racing at least until the Sochi Olympics.