Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Vonn joins Picabo Street as two-time downhill queens

Minnesotan closes in on second straight overall title

Lindsey Vonn. Courtesy photo by U.S. Ski Team

Double World Champion Lindsey Vonn, 24, of Vail, Colo. added a new line to the U.S. Ski Team record books Saturday at Bansko, Bulgaria—becoming only the second American in history to win back-to-back World Cup downhill titles.

Vonn tied for 12th in the sixth World Cup women's downhill of the Audi FIS World Cup season, but the Minnesota native clinched the title with an insurmountable 111-point margin over Swiss racer Dominique Gisin. Vonn has 402 downhills points, Gisin 291.

She became only the second American to win two World Cup downhill titles, joining Triumph native Picabo Street, who took the World Cup globes in 1995 and 1996.

"It's so cool to join Picabo as the only Americans to win the downhill title twice," said Vonn. "It really doesn't seem like all that long ago when I met her at a poster signing in Minnesota. Since then I've always looked up to her."

Vonn, who captured the downhill gold Feb. 9 at the 2009 FIS World Alpine Championships at Val d'Isere, France, added, "This is a huge accomplishment. It's never easy to win a World Cup title, and it's even harder to defend one.

"It was a difficult year, in terms of weather, for downhill. We had a few cancellations and we lost a race in Lake Louise, but I'm still really happy I was able to keep the title."

Vonn, greeted in Bansko by hundreds of people in the new Lindsey Vonn Red Bull fan club, joined childhood hero and now good friend Street, as the only Americans (male or female) to win back-to-back crystal DH globes.

After placing third in Friday's make-up downhill on an icy, bumpy and technical Bansko course, Vonn had a few comments about the challenging course—a course on which she crashed and fell during the final training run on Thursday.

Vonn said, "This hill doesn't let up on you, so to be able to get a podium and some more points is really nice. It's always interesting to come to a new venue, and the people have been awesome."

She returned the favor to the friendly audience with another outstanding performance Sunday, winning the Bansko super giant slalom. It was Vonn's fourth straight SG victory including her gold medal in the world championship SG Feb. 3.

Vonn's 20th World Cup triumph cemented her status as the most successful women's ski racer in American history. And it moved her a little closer to two other achievements.

With 361 points in super giant slalom, Vonn pulled within 15 points of leader Fabienne Suter of Switzerland (376).

The consummate goal setter inched closer to doing what no American woman has ever done—win two straight World Cup overall championships. In addition, no American woman has ever won two discipline titles in the same season.

During her run to the 2008 overall title, Vonn amassed 1,403 points on the World Cup.

She has 1,556 so far this season with six races to go. The big difference has come in slalom. Last season Vonn finished 32nd in the slalom standings with 46 points. She now has 440 points for second place, 140 behind Maria Riesch of Germany.

With her coronation all but assured, Vonn leads Riesch in the overall standings by a 391-point margin. Vonn is currently in the top 10 in all the World Cup disciplines.

World Cup women roll into Ofterschwang, Germ. for giant slalom and slalom March 6-7 prior to the World Cup finals March 9-15 in Are, Sweden.

Ligety captures fourth victory

Ted Ligety, 24, of Park City, Utah came from third place after the first run to win a World Cup giant slalom Saturday in Slovenia.

It was Ligety's fourth career World Cup win and 15th podium of his Cup career.

Ligety out-skied Switzerland's Didier Cuche and Massimiliano Blardone of Italy, who placed second and third.

The win makes it a back-to-back situation for Ligety, who also won in Kranjska Gora last year. In fact, the hill marks the place where Ligety truly burst into the racing elite. Longtime fans recall his Europa Cup slalom win on the Pokoren in 2004 following a pair of World Cups.

"This year has been tough, and to come to Kranjska Gora is always an awesome experience. It's been such a good hill for me for so long," Ligety said.

He added, "My coach set the second run and it was just how I like it. You know, I like those big sweeping turns. I had a couple of bobbles along the way, but I'm really happy."

The victory kept Ligety in third for the season's discipline standings, Ligety said overcoming Cuche, who is 73 points ahead after Saturday's race would be a tall order.

"I'm still a long way off. It's going to be hard to make up so many points on Cuche. I'm happy with the day, but I'm not really figuring the red bib anymore," Ligety said.

Austrian Benjamin Raich sits in second in the giant slalom standings, just 21 points behind Cuche, making the race even tighter.

"In Sestriere, at that point when I went out in the second, I knew the crystal globe chances were gone. It was pretty disappointing. Then I let that go. We had a couple of race to go. At least I wanted to come away happy," Ligety said.

The men will race downhill and super giant slalom March 4-8 at Kvitjell, Norway before heading off to the World Cup finals in Are.

Croatia's Ivica Kostelic (837 points) holds the narrowest of margins over Raich (835) in the men's overall standings, with Bode Miller, 31, of New Hampshire and Ligety in eighth and ninth places with 517 and 498 points, respectively.

Reigning men's overall king Miller, with 275 points in the downhill standings, still has a shot for a title in that discipline because the leader Michael Walchhofer of Austria has 310 points and second-place Didier Defago of Switzerland has 298.

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