BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) – Lindsey Vonn is chilling out after an exhausting week of charging down the course.
For the next few days, the Olympic gold medalist will catch her breath in Vail as she taps the brakes on a bustling schedule.
Some relaxing, some training. That’s it.
So swift on the slopes, she’s taking full advantage of this slower pace.
Usually this time of year, Vonn is in Europe preparing for her next competition. But with the races moved to Beaver Creek this week due to a lack of snow in Val d’Isere, France, Vonn gets to spend a little extra time at home with family and friends.
This is good therapy.
While everything is going so well on the hill, away from it she’s dealing with a divorce from her husband of four years and persistent rumors over whom she’s dating.
It’s draining. It’s taxing. It’s invasive.
But there’s always one place to escape, to forget about everything for a while – the mountain.
“When I’m skiing, I’m happy. I have a certain inner peace that I haven’t had in a while,” Vonn said in an interview with The Associated Press. “If I have my skis on, I feel good.”
Vonn sounded exhausted a day after racing to her first World Cup win on U.S. slopes.
PHOTO GALLERY: Lindsey Vonn Wins World Cup Super-G
She put a lot of pressure on herself to capture a super-G in front of a hometown crowd, especially since this was the first-ever women’s race held on the Birds of Prey course. She’s never really been this nervous before, including when she stood in the starting gate at the Vancouver Olympics as the overwhelming favorite in the downhill.
She won that day in Vancouver and again this week.
Vonn simply thrives on pressure.
The 27-year-old has won five World Cup races to start the season, including four in a row, which is an American record.
“I’m just happy I could come through for everyone in Vail and Beaver Creek and get a win on home soil,” said Vonn, who will soon head to France for a slalom and giant slalom. “I’m happy that I can safely say I’ve won at home, in the U.S. I definitely had a huge sigh of relief after the race.”
To celebrate her electric victory, Vonn dropped to a knee with her skis in her hand and struck a prayer prose, joining the ever-growing “Tebowing” craze.
But that added fuel to the rumor mill.
Recent gossip had her linked with Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, whose brother, Robby, showed up to watch Vonn race in Beaver Creek.
All that speculation is fatiguing and frustrating for Vonn.
“I am single. I’m not with anyone,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot of rumors and a lot of reports. Mostly, the European press has gone a little bit crazy with the rumors that they’re coming up with.”
Vonn has recently gotten to know the Tebow family. She respects the job Tim Tebow has done in guiding the Broncos back into playoff contention, especially with all the criticism he receives.
“He’s proving them all wrong,” Vonn said. “In a way, that’s what I’m trying to do as well – to be able to compete under any circumstance and keep fighting and doing my best every day. Just because I ‘Tebow,’ doesn’t mean I’m dating him. I said that if I won in Colorado, I would ‘Tebow’ because I admire what he’s doing.
“I know their family pretty well. They’re great people, very kind and generous. It’s been nice to know them.”
These days, she’s simply focused on one thing and one thing only – getting faster on the course. She won a season-opening giant slalom – becoming the fifth female skier to win a race in all five Alpine disciplines – and hasn’t looked back.
Vonn’s World Cup win in Beaver Creek was the 46th of her career, moving her into a tie with Austria’s Renate Goetschl for third on the career list.
“It’s been an amazing start to the season,” Vonn said.
There were those who wondered how Vonn would fare without her husband, Thomas Vonn, around to relieve some of the pressure. He always made sure she didn’t overexert herself by conducting too many interviews or attending too many functions.
Now, she’s leaning on family, friends, coaches and teammates to help her through this difficult time.
“I have a lot of really supportive people around me,” Vonn said. “At the same time, I’m the pilot when I’m in the starting gate. I’ve always been the pilot. I know I can be successful in skiing under extreme circumstances.”
She’s also started the process of repairing the relationship with her father, Alan Kildow, who introduced her to skiing and even moved the family to Colorado to hone her talent.
They had a falling out a few years ago, the tension stemming in part from Vonn’s relationship with Thomas Vonn, a former U.S. Olympic skier who is nearly nine years older.
“It’s great to have my dad back in my life. We’re working through it,” Vonn said. “It’s great to be able to talk to him again. You always want your dad around. It’s great to finally be talking to him after so long.”
The way Vonn is skiing now, this much is certain: Rarely has she been better.
All this through a difficult time, too.
“I think I proved to myself and to everyone else as well that you can do anything you set your mind to, no matter what’s going on around you,” Vonn said. “If you stay focused and love doing what you’re doing, you can still accomplish anything, in any circumstance.”
– By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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