Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Vonn settles for world championship silver, takes time off

Courtesy photo by Getty Images/AFP/Fabrice Coffrini. Lindsey Vonn battles to downhill silver in Garmisch.

By the U.S. Ski Team, Ski Racing Magazine News Service and idaho Mountain Express

American Lindsey Vonn, 26, has been remarkably injury-free during a remarkable international ski racing career that includes three consecutive World Cup overall titles.

But she's been battling the effects of a head injury during the 2011 FIS (International Ski Federation) Alpine World Ski Championships that continue through Feb. 20 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Vonn suffered a concussion during a Feb. 2 training run. The symptoms continued over the past seven days at Garmisch, where the reigning super giant slalom gold medalist finished seventh in the Feb. 8 SG event and then pulled out of Friday's slalom portion of the women's super combined race.

She has indicated that the head injury has taken away her drive and focus. But she has been tested closely each day at worlds—and came up with a determined performance in Sunday's women's downhill.

Vonn, the 2009 world championship downhill gold medalist, put together a strong run on the softening Kandahar course and earned the silver medal .44 seconds behind Elisabeth Goergl of Austria. Considering everything, Vonn said her silver medal felt like a gold.

On Monday, Vonn said she will miss the remainder of the championships in order to focus on defending her four Audi FIS Alpine World Cup titles.

"Coming into these championships my plan was to race in all of the events, but I've decided to take the next week off from competition in order to get back to 100%," said Vonn.

Vonn is currently leading the downhill, super G and super combined standings, but sits 156 points behind friend Maria Riesch in the overall standings. Raised in Garmisch, Riesch is a double bronze medalist in super G and downhill at these championships.

"It's been a really difficult few weeks and at every stage, I've had 100% confidence in the medical advice I've been provided and believe we've made the right decisions," said Vonn.

"Thanks so much to all my fans in Garmisch, the crowds are the biggest we've seen in a while at a World Championships. My hope is that I will be healthy and fresh when the World Cup tour resumes."

The World Cup picks back up Feb. 25-27 in Are, Sweden with a super combined, downhill and super G.

Meanwhile, Goergl, 29, has become the queen of the 2011 world finals with gold medals in super giant slalom and downhill. Other gold medalists: Canada's Eric Guay (men's downhill), Italy's Christof Innerhofer (men's SG), Austria's Anna Fenninger and Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal (women's and men's super combined).

NBC Sports and Universal Sports are providing complete television coverage of worlds. is carrying live and on-demand streaming of every race with same day coverage on its 24-hour TV network. Here is the rest of the worlds schedule:

NBC Sports broadcast schedule (Mountain Time):

Saturday, Feb. 19: 1-2 p.m.—women's slalom, highlights of men's giant slalom.

Universal Sports broadcast schedule (all times Mountain Time):

Thursday, Feb. 17: 9-10:30 a.m.—women's giant slalom.

Friday, Feb. 18: 9-10:30 a.m.—men's giant slalom.

Saturday, Feb. 19: 2-3 p.m.—women's slalom.

Sunday, Feb. 20: 9-10:30 a.m., men's slalom.

Women's downhill to Goergl

There was great joy in Austria Sunday. Goergl picked up her second World Championship of the week at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The title gave Austria its 22nd global downhill title (men and women) and first since 2003.

Goergl's beautifully executed run set the tone for a Murderer's Row of top competitors skiing after her.

Though they would challenge, none could out race her on this day as she won her first elite downhill and brought the Austrian women's team its third consecutive win at these championships.

"It's the downhill," Goergl simply said when question why this medal as a little more special to her than the super G title she won on Tuesday. She had collected four World Cup downhill podiums since 2006, but never a win.

With a courageous effort that fell 0.44 seconds short, Lindsey Vonn added a silver medal to the gold she had won in the event at Val d'Isere, France in 2009. Local favorite Maria Riesch (0.60 back) of Germany contributed the bronze medal to the roaring approval of her hometown fans.

"Today feels like a gold medal," said a very pleased Vonn. "It's a really great feeling and I couldn't be happier. I could feel the speed today. It was a fun downhill and I enjoyed racing it today."

The U.S. ended up with three skiers in the top 10, a feat not accomplished in a downhill in 15 years, with Julia Mancuso finishing sixth and Laurenne Ross, the first skier on the hill today, finishing tenth for her best top-level result ever.

"This is the best result of my career and I'm glad that it happened at World Champs. I really nailed the bottom part of the course. I knew coming into the difficult section that I had to nail it. It wasn't a perfect run, but it was one of the better runs that I've had," said Ross.

Goergl was exceptional in every way. She got out of the start house quickly and powerfully, skied a strong line the length of 1.8-mile Kandahar course and unseated Swiss Lara Gut from the cat bird seat by nearly a full second (0 .94), setting new markers at every interval timing position.

Riesch and Vonn have combined to win the last 14 consecutive World Cup downhills. That streak climbs to 15 f you count Vonn's victory at the Vancouver Olympic Games.

So Goergl's win was a little unexpected.

"Lizzy (Goergl) has stepped up and she's done incredibly well. Her runs were amazing. I watched her run from the super combined and I thought 'wow'. She's stepping up and it's really cool to see," said Vonn of Goergl ending the streak. "She's a really hard worker and a very nice person. It's fun to see people really step up in World Championship events."

Vonn picked up momentum as her run progressed and she made up the bulk of her time on the last chunk of hill, coming in 0.44 seconds off the pace of the Austrian. It was her first full-on speed run since sustaining a head injury Feb. 2 that has caused her difficulty gauging speed and the first real sign her recovery has approached a successful conclusion.

The 2009 Worlds downhill and super G queen pulled out of the the week's first downhill training and opted to run the final "dress rehearsal" in an unusual costume as she tested the "cloudy head." Wearing loose fitting free skiing clothes to slow her down, Vonn placed seventh in the super G.

Goergl, already the World SG champion after bouncing through the icy, ragged pitch of the same course five days before, collected her third FIS medal, the first coming in combined in 2009. Meanwhile, Vonn's silver was her fifth world championship medal.

Women's super combined

The Alpine World Championships turned into a battle between Austrians today Friday at Garmisch-Partenkirchen as Anna Fenninger cruised down the slalom course to take the win from Austrian teammate and first run (downhill) leader Elisabeth Goergl.

Fenninger, a three-time World Juniors gold medalist, was in fourth, 0.40 seconds behind Goergl after the morning downhill run then put down the fourth-fastest slalom run to secure a winning time of two minutes, 43.23 seconds. It was the first top-level victory for Fenninger, 21, who has three World Cup podiums (all in the last two years) in speed events but no previous elite victories.

Goergl landed in fourth after losing the majority of her lead on the bottom of the Gudiberg slalom course. With her bronze medal, Sweden's Anja Paerson collected her 17th big event medal (11 Worlds, six Olympic) including the 2007 super combined title. Silver medalist was Tina Maze of Slovenia.

American Julia Mancuso, last Tuesday's super G silver medalist, was the top North American in seventh after moving up from ninth in the downhill.

American Laurenne Ross led her team into the afternoon slalom with the sixth-fastest downhill time (1:50.70). In the slalom, she straddled a gate early but stuck with it, hiking for several seconds to pull in the 28th place finish.

Vonn, who in December won this season's only World Cup super combined, ran the morning downhill leg (12th), but opted not to compete in the afternoon slalom to continue recovering from her concussion.

Another men's downhill gold for Canada

Erik Guay is the World Champion. Once again Canada captured the Worlds downhill title from under the noses of the Europeans.

In 2009 it was John Kucera winning a difficult test at Val d'Isere. On Saturday it was Guay with an early run down a decidedly changed Garmisch-Partenkirchen race course who stole the worlds most prestigious ski racing title.

Switzerland's Didier Cuche, a favorite in many eyes, was second. Italy's Christof Innerhofer earned favored status with the super G gold medal last week and a courageous first place in the first training run. Innerhofer finished third for the bronze medal.

The Kandahar 2 course had changed dramatically since Innerhofer's medal or his first training run win when an rough, icy surface had drawn abundant criticism and had skiers thinking more about survival than finding speed.

On a softened course in Friday's training racers had a better opportunity to seek speed. And on Saturday in the world championship run, the course invited attack—but only for a short while. Then the track began to melt from the bottom to the top making it almost impossible to challenge leaders.

In his last four World Cups Guay had finished 3-1-3-1, the last time in SG to clinch that World Cup title. In training he had been seventh and fourth in the treacherous super G he had failed to finish. He said he had looked forward to the downhill to show what he could do at Garmisch.

The old Swiss, Cuche, was his usual stellar self, solid and compact, charging and concise. He was faster than Guay at the second and third interval timers, but just before the finish, at the last of 44 gates on the track was a slight bobble, a heartbeat of trouble that pulled his shoulder out of his tuck. He finished .32 back and Guay could not contain a shout and fist pump from the leaders box.

American Bode Miller appeared unable to generate speed at any point on course and finished a respectable 15th, but nowhere near any spot that counted for anything. Steven Nyman, in 13th, led the Yanks.

"I tipped over on my hip at the very top, but I don't think that cost me all that much," said Miller. "I made a great recovery and then gassed it from there down. I'm happy with the way I skied.

"I was pushing the line and cutting off the line almost every section of the course. My legs had good power, I felt strong all the way to the finish and I was concerned about that because it has been so bumpy. It's disappointing, but some days in ski racing there's just not much else you can do."

Travis Ganong apparently broke his hand hitting a gate high on the course and finished 24th. "I think it's kind of broken," he said of his left hand packed in ice. "It hurts."

On Monday, Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal made the Italians—silver medal winner Christof Innerhofer and bronze medalist Peter Fill—look like pretenders. Svindal claimed the gold medal of the World Championship super combined by an outstanding 1.01 seconds.

It was the second straight combined gold in World Championship competition for Svindal. He also claimed the top prize in 2009 at Val d'Isere. It was Svindal's first medal of these championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany and it was well earned.

The Americans had a rough go.

Tim Jitloff had made a costly mistake in the downhill and pushed gamely from the second start of the slalom to make up a nine-second deficit with predictable results. He put up the third fastest slalom run on the day, but wound up tied for 14th, the only U.S. finish.

Ted Ligety had a decent downhill (11th) and was definitely full-out attack in the slalom, but exited about half way down.

Bode Miller showed he can exit a race course with as much flamboyance as anyone, flying past the second gate on the slalom hill horizontal to the ground, his skis above his head.

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