TARVISIO, Italy (AP) — Here’s a measure of Lindsey Vonn’s strength in the downhill: She no longer bothers to celebrate the season-long championship.
She won the downhill crown for the fourth consecutive year Saturday by finishing second to Sweden’s Anja Paerson. A day earlier, Vonn clinched her second straight super-combined title. She now has 11 World Cup championships for her career, with another possibly on the way in Sunday’s super-G.
This latest title hardly prompted a ski-dancing display in the snow as was the case Saturday. Instead, Vonn appeared upset when she crossed the line a distant 0.73 seconds behind. Still, she wasn’t about to take this milestone for granted, especially in a season in which she left the world championships because of the lingering effects of a concussion.
“You can never expect any titles,” she said. “Nothing is given to you and you have to fight for every point and every place, and this year I wasn’t able to win as many times as last year, so it definitely wasn’t easy. Maria gave me a run for my money and I had to keep fighting hard the whole season.”
Elisabeth Goergl, who won gold in the super-G and downhill at last month’s world championships, finished 1.17 back in third. Tina Maze, Friday’s super-combined winner, was fourth on a sunny, cool day and on a shortened course because of curtailed training on the upper section.
Vonn’s runner-up finish gave her an insurmountable 143-point lead in the downhill standings over German rival Maria Riesch, who finished sixth but remains the overall leader.
Vonn and Riesch have both won three downhills this season, with Paerson the only other woman to win in the discipline. Last season, Vonn won six of eight downhills. Still, only Austrians Annemarie Moser-Proell (seven) and Renate Goetschl (five) have won more downhill titles.
“It’s an incredible achievement,” U.S. coach Alex Hoedlmoser said. “To be consistent is what those titles show — always being on the top in downhill for four years now. It’s very, very impressive and she can be really proud about that.”
This was Paerson’s first victory in a season hampered by knee problems. It was also the 42nd of her World Cup career, improving her fourth-place position on the list and moving her two in front of Vonn. Last weekend in Are, Sweden, Paerson pulled up short because of knee pain.
“I was so bummed with the knee and I didn’t know if I could race here,” she said. “It’s always frustrating when you know how fast you can ski and what you can do, and then you do those small mistakes all the time. I knew when I came to Are and I knew when I came here that I could win the races.”
Vonn trails Riesch by just 136 points in the overall standings with seven races remaining. But even if Vonn’s streak of three consecutive overall titles ends, the American can console herself with two — and perhaps three — discipline titles.
“If I don’t win, it just gives me more motivation to come back and really step it up next year,” Vonn said. “(Riesch) has shown what’s possible. In the past I’ve been able to win downhills, super-G’s and combined (races) and been able to win the overall, but now Maria is getting podiums in all events, so the bar has been raised and I’m ready to raise it again next year.”
Having made a mistake midway down, Riesch slammed into the padding at the finish and banged her pole in frustration.
“I just saw that I’m eight hundredths back with this mistake, so I was frustrated in the first moment, but you can’t always have runs without mistakes,” she said. “It’s just normal that one race is not perfect. This is not my favorite downhill track. It’s really, really flat and sixth place is not a really good result but it’s still OK.”
Paerson’s victory was tempered by her ailing knee.
“That landing in the middle is brutal,” she said. “It was high and really far and really tough to land, but I feel OK now.”
She hasn’t decided if she’ll race next season.
“I have to know I can win not just once a year, win a lot of times a year, and I want to win a crystal globe again,” she said. “So I have to be honest with myself if I have the motivation.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)