TARVISIO, Italy (AP) — Lindsey Vonn’s concussion may turn out to have been a blessing in disguise.
Having skipped the second half of last month’s world championships to recover, the Olympic downhill champion now appears in top form for the tense finale of the World Cup circuit.
Vonn clinched her third discipline title in three days with a super-G victory Sunday to wrap up a memorable weekend of racing.
“I knew that if I could get my head to be free of any symptoms that I could ski the way I know that I can ski,” Vonn said. “It was just a matter of being able to focus and concentrate that was slowing me down.
“That time off was what has enabled me to ski the way I am now. I’m really thankful that we had the foresight to do that, and that I had support from my doctors, my coaches and my husband. That’s what really has gotten me through this ordeal.”
Vonn took the super-combined and downhill titles the past two days and has moved within 96 points of German rival and good friend Maria Riesch in the overall standings with six races remaining this season.
Vonn sliced 100 points off Riesch’s overall lead this weekend, and holds an insurmountable 171-point lead over the German in the super-G standings.
It’s been quite a turnaround from a couple weeks ago, when Vonn wasn’t even sure she’d ever be able to win again, reporting that she felt like she was “skiing in a fog,” with her body one gate ahead of her mind after falling on her head in giant slalom training.
Vonn spent the second half of worlds recovering at a wellness center in Austria.
“We were definitely in a low place just a couple weeks ago,” said Thomas Vonn, the skier’s husband and chief adviser. “We didn’t know. Everything was question marks, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen with head injuries. It could be that six months later she’s still having symptoms and big trouble, so obviously we got really lucky on a lot of fronts that she was able to heal up and regain her old form.”
Vonn also acknowledged that she was “definitely worried.”
“But I was trying to give it as much time as I could — that’s why I took so much time off,” she said. “I didn’t ski for a week after the downhill race and I think by being a little overly cautious in that direction helped me to get back to where I am now. … It’s definitely not what I wanted, but I feel fresh right now.”
Vonn was virtually flawless down the sun-drenched Prampero course, clocking 1 minute, 21.75 seconds to finish 0.23 ahead of fellow American Julia Mancuso and 0.50 in front of Riesch.
In a banner day for the Americans, World Cup rookie Laurenne Ross was fourth, 0.70 behind, for her career-best result.
The last time U.S. women took three of the first four spots was on Jan. 14, 2007, in a super-combined race in Zauchensee, Austria, with Mancuso first, Vonn second and Resi Stiegler fourth.
The nightly celebrations for Vonn’s crystal globes are starting to inspire her teammates.
“Everybody is psyched and it’s a really good atmosphere within the team and the coaching staff and everybody,” said U.S. head coach Alex Hoedlmoser.
Vonn, Mancuso and Ross stood 1-2-3 until Riesch came down and ended the chances of the U.S. team’s first podium sweep. Still, Ross earned a spot at the World Cup finals, where only the top 25 ranked skiers in each discipline qualify.
“I’m happy — top five is good,” Ross said. “It’s my first year on the World Cup, so I’m psyched with it. I haven’t really been in a good spot the last couple of races, so I just got a little pissed today and went after it, and I think sometimes that works.”
Another American, Leanne Smith, finished 11th, and Stacey Cook placed 26th with the No. 41 bib. Two other young Americans who have impressed over the past couple of seasons with the speed team, Alice McKennis and Chelsea Marshall, are out injured.
“It’s nice to be part of a strong team, because you know that we’re doing the right thing in the summer,” Mancuso said. “We definitely have the pace for training. I think this is just the beginning of some really good years. The young girls are coming up and they’re fast.”
It was the eighth win for Vonn this season and the 41st of her World Cup career, moving her within one win of fourth on the all-time list tied with Anja Paerson. The Swede finished fifth Sunday to follow up her downhill victory a day earlier.
Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proell is tops on the women’s career list with 62 wins, Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider has 55 and Austria’s Renate Goetschl 46.
The women’s circuit now travels to Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic, for giant slalom and slalom races next weekend, the last stop before the World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, March 16-20.
“I can’t lose any more points to (Riesch) the rest of the season if I want to win the (overall) title, and that’s going to be really tough to do, but it’s still possible,” Vonn said.
“It’s a lot different when you’re in the lead for the title by only 96 points and trailing by 96 points. I’ve been in that position before and it’s not an easy one. It’s a lot of pressure and a lot of stress, so you never know what’s going to happen and I just have to keep trying to ski the best that I can and really risk.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)