CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy (AP) – By any measure, Lindsey Vonn’s impending divorce is not affecting her on the slopes. If anything, it’s motivated her.
She has won six times and holds a commanding lead in the overall World Cup standings well before the season’s midpoint.
One key to Vonn’s success predates her November announcement that she was separating from husband and personal coach Thomas Vonn.
After Vonn lost last season’s overall title by three points to Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch, she asked the U.S. team to assign her a personal coach who would travel with her and arrange training sessions as she moves back and forth between speed and technical events. Getting the job was Jeff Fergus, who has been with the U.S. speed team for six years.
“We came up with the idea to have Jeff stay with me and train with me. He comes to every race,” Vonn told The Associated Press over the weekend, when she finished second in a downhill and first in a super-G to move into sole possession of third place on the career list.
“It has worked out really well. We started working more one-on-one this summer and we think very similarly and I understand him very well so it’s been great to work more with him. It’s not always easy to find a coach that thinks the same way and we understand each other really well. Especially considering everything that’s been going on in my personal life, it’s great to have a coach that I can really rely on.”
Vonn’s 47th career victory moved her ahead of retired Austrian Renate Goetschl (46). Only Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proell (62) and Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider (55) have more.
While teammate Julia Mancuso has skied all four disciplines in the past, she now often skips slaloms, leaving Vonn the only U.S. skier competing in every event.
“It’s just a matter of adding a little consistency between her speed and her tech,” Fergus said. “So instead of being in a middle group all by herself, I’m with her for tech training and speed training.”
Fergus and Vonn often travel together.
PHOTO GALLERY: Lindsey Vonn Wins World Cup Super-G
“She has her car, I have my car, but this week for example we’ll go back and train in Soelden (the team’s training base in Austria) with the tech team just to get more support,” Fergus said. “You can’t have one coach with an athlete setting up everything, it’s just too much work.”
In recent seasons, Vonn relied on her husband, a former U.S. Ski Team racer, for special training, even though Thomas was not an official coach with the U.S. team.
“(Thomas) is very intelligent and knows the sport and that’s the direction that she was going,” U.S. speed head coach Chip White said. “Now without him around she’s more reliant on the coaches that have been around for a long time and she’s engaged with us and as you can tell it’s not hurting her performance.”
Indeed, this is the first season in which Vonn has been ranked in the top 15 in all four disciplines, having opened the season with her first career giant slalom victory in Soelden — making her one of only five female skiers to win in all five events.
“It’s been very positive,” White added. “She has a lot of special needs and with all of her media appearances and all these things we have to do whatever we can to cater to her schedule, and this makes it easier when there’s somebody that can actually move with her if she’s on a little bit different program than the rest of the group.”
Vonn’s separation from Thomas has also appeared to make her more relaxed.
“She has less demands now. She’s more confident in the team. She’s not just relying on Thomas all the time,” said Vonn’s ski man, Heinz Heammerle. “She’s more with the team now. Before she was separated more.”
White can also see the difference.
“Absolutely,” he said. “It seems to me like she’s having fun. She’s more lighthearted, she’s engaged with teammates, other teams, and the coaches. She just seems to be having a good time, more positive.”
Vonn has also revived her friendship with Hoefl-Riesch, following a public falling out at the end of last season. Hoefl-Riesch had accused Vonn of being cold to her when she ended the American’s run of three consecutive overall titles.
And the setup with Fergus also benefits Mancuso because she still often needs special training with her connection coach, Chris Knight.
“Having Fergie and Chris go to all the races now it just makes it a lot more consistent and consistency helps you just be prepared for anything,” said Mancuso, who has three top-three results this season.
Vonn still has her two Red Bull trainers, Oliver Saringer and Martin Hager, following her full time, and she was joined in Europe over the last couple of weeks by her younger sister, Laura Kildow, with the pair taking a mini vacation together in Venice this week.
Vonn has also started repairing the relationship with her father, Alan Kildow, who introduced her to skiing and even moved the family from Minnesota 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, who is nearly 9 years older.
“It’s definitely a private, difficult situation,” U.S. women’s head coach Alex Hoedlmoser said. “Everybody knows that private things can affect you, but she’s focusing on skiing and that’s what we’re trying to do with her, too. She’s been getting great coaching over the years beside Thomas, and obviously she’s on top of (her) game this year when he’s not there, so it doesn’t make any difference.”
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