ASPEN, Colo. (AP) – This particular giant slalom course has vexed Lindsey Vonn, even gotten into her head.
Too bumpy, she’s said. Hard to find a rhythm, she’s lamented. Never feel comfortable here, she’s remarked.
All the doubt and displeasure really manifested because of one reason: The three-time overall World Cup champion simply had no confidence in the giant slalom. So dominant in everything else, this discipline has tormented her for years.
But that all changed with her seasoning-opening win in Soelden, Austria, last month.
With that GS win, she had her swagger back.
And also with that GS win, anything seemed possible — even another Saturday on this giant slalom course that’s so perplexed her in the past.
“Coming here to Aspen, I never expected to do well,” said Vonn, whose best finish in the GS at this venue is fourth in 2008. “But I do have that confidence and I do know that I can win.”
Although, a World Cup giant slalom victory by an American in Aspen hasn’t happened in quite some time. Tamara McKinney was the last to do so in 1981.
Vonn has a simple explanation for the drought — the course is just that demanding.
“I feel like the hill is the most challenging hill I face all season. It’s constantly coming at you, changing directions, changing steepness, there’s tons of terrain,” she said. “I’ve never really felt comfortable or confident on this hill.”
With her victory in Soelden, Vonn became the fifth female skier to win a race in all five Alpine disciplines. She’s also the second American skier to complete the discipline sweep, joining Bode Miller.
It also lifted quite a burden off her shoulders. She’s even feeling more at ease on the closest thing the Americans have to a home-hill advantage.
“I’ve never raced here in Aspen and felt good about my skiing,” Vonn said. “Hopefully, this weekend I’ll change everything and turn it around and be able to finally get a top-three finish here.”
Vonn will be joined in the GS field Saturday by Julia Mancuso, Sarah Schleper, Resi Stiegler, 16-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin and Kiley Staples.
For Stiegler, this will mark a return to the giant slalom, a discipline that’s caused her such great pain.
In December 2007, Stiegler suffered a bad wipeout in Lienz, Austria, one that haunted her for years. She caught an edge, went through the fencing, did a cartwheel and collided with a stump, breaking her right leg, left arm and tearing all the ligaments in her right knee.
Two years later, she was training for the GS at Copper Mountain, only to hook a gate and have her ski fail to pop off. She slammed into the snow with so much force that she fractured the inner part of her left femur and the outside of her tibial plateau.
That’s why she swore off the discipline, but had a change of heart this season. She finished third in a recent team competition to earn a spot.
“That was kind of unexpected,” she said. “It’s nice to be back. I feel better mentally. This is a big step for me.”
The same can be said for Shiffrin, who’s competing in her first full season of World Cup. This will be her first test of the season.
Mancuso enters the event in a good place, too, especially after finishing 10th in Soelden.
“I feel more and more relaxed,” Mancuso said.
So does Vonn. The win in Soelden changed her frame of mind when it comes to the giant slalom.
“After Soelden, I finally said to myself, `OK, I can ski the GS. I’m not a beginner anymore. I can actually do this,”‘ Vonn said. “I’ve never felt that way before.
“Now when I’m standing in the start, I feel like I belong there. I know what I’m doing. I have confidence in what I’m doing. It’s a lot better feeling.
– By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
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