Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Vonn takes 19th World Cup win, reigns as U.S. best

Minnesotan stretches World Cup lead

Minnesota native Lindsey Vonn, racing here in last week's Tarvisio super combined, will have fond memories of her stop in the Italian resort. She posted a pair of second-place finishes and won her U.S. record setting 19th World Cup race Sunday in super giant slalom. Photo by Getty Images/AFP-Dimitar Dilkoff

It's official!

Minnesota native Lindsey Vonn of Vail, Colo. is the winningest female ski racer in American history.

The 24-year-old double World Champion secured her 19th World Cup victory Sunday with a super giant slalom victory win at Tarvisio, Italy. She surpassed U.S. great Tamara McKinney's previous high mark of 18 established in the 1980s.

It was Vonn's sixth World Cup win of the season and 43rd podium of her young career. She now stands an impressive third for all-time U.S. World Cup wins (male or female) behind Bode Miller, 31, of Franconia, N.H. with 31 and Phil Mahre, 27.

"It sounds really weird to me," said Vonn, who captured gold in both downhill and super G at the recent FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. "I don't see myself as a record setter and never thought it was possible to pass a legend like Tamara.

"I'm extremely thrilled and hope that a lot of kids see what's possible in ski racing and become inspired. More than any title or record, I want to be a good example to young athletes. The same way Tamara and Picabo (Street) were for me."

Vonn also holds a commanding 299-point lead over best friend Maria Riesch of Germany in the overall standings with nine races remaining.

In the overall standings, Vonn has 1374 points and Riesch 1075. Vonn also leads the downhill standings 320-262 over Dominique Gisin of Switzerland, and stands in second place 140 points behind slalom leader Riesch, who has 580 points.

No American woman has ever won back-to-back World Cup overall titles. McKinney won the first in 1983 and Vonn took the title in 2008.

"My big goal for this weekend was to build my points total for the overall," said Vonn about the World Cup stop at Tarvisio. The next best American in overall is Julia Mancuso in 26th place with 214 points.

Trailing after the first timing interval, Vonn took over through the middle and bottom sections of the course holding her powerful tuck through difficult light nearly the entire length of the slope and gaining speed all the way to the finish.

Her time of 1:21.72 posted a full .51 seconds over second place finisher Fabienne Suter of Switzerland.

"I definitely lose a little at the start, but I have to just push that much harder through the rest of the course," said Vonn, referring to the repaired tendon in her right thumb. "It's not something I even think about when I'm racing. I know it's there and I have to push harder out of the start with my left hand, but other than that, I just ignore the pain and race."

The last three super G races have ended with a Vonn victory including a one-day delayed race at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany on Feb. 1 and the World Championships just two days later in Val d'Isere, France.

With two super Gs left on the calendar, Vonn sits 39 points behind Nadia Fanchini of Italy for the season-long discipline title. Fanchini leads Fabienne Suter of Switzerland 300-296, with Vonn sitting at 261. Last year Vonn finished sixth in the SG standings with 262 points.

Vonn said, "I realized that if I wanted to be up there in super G, I had to find a balance of aggression. I couldn't be conservative, but I couldn't be too aggressive either. I think I found that in Garmisch and I've been skiing with that confidence since."

Having placed ninth in the first SG at Lake Louise Dec. 7, Vonn DNFd at St. Moritz, Switz., was eighth at Cortina, Italy and tied McKinney with 18 World Cup golds by winning the Garmisch SG Feb. 1. She has won two of the five SGs.

Actually, Buck Hill Ski Club product Vonn came close to her record-breaking 19th World Cup win in the two other Tarvisio events. She placed second in Friday's super combined, and was second by a slim .01-second margin in Saturday's downhill won by Germany's Gina Stechert. Vonn has been first, third, second and second in the four DHs.

The women's White Circus rolls on to a new stop in Bansko, Bulgaria next week for two downhills and a super G, the last speed races before the March 9-15 World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden.

For the men, Reno's Tim Jitloff posted a career-best fifth place in Saturday's giant slalom at Sestriere, Italy. Ted Ligety of Park City was 25th in Sunday's super combined.

Men's overall standings show a very tight race between current leader Ivica Kostelic of Croatia with 802 points, Jean-Baptiste Grange of France with 771, Benjamin Raich of Austria with 769 and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway with 711. Far back in eighth place is reigning men's champion Bode Miller with 517.

The men's team will compete in tech races Feb. 28-March 1 at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.

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