Back In Top Form, Vonn Favorite In Speed Events At Worlds

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) – Lindsey Vonn is treating the world championships in her hometown almost like her Olympics. You know, the ones she missed last February because of a knee that required two surgeries.

The thought of this event got her through the toughest parts of rehabbing her knee.

“It’s not the Olympics, but, to me, it feels like it,” said Vonn, whose competition kicks off Tuesday with a super-G race. “I feel like this is a great opportunity for me.”

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She’s the one to beat in the speed events, especially now with no pressure on her shoulders. She recently broke Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell’s 35-year-old mark for most World Cup wins by a female skier. Vonn now has 64 World Cup wins after her victory in Switzerland during her last race before worlds.

Next on Vonn’s list, making peace with the past. Two years ago at worlds in Schladming, Austria, Vonn crashed in the super-G and tore ligaments in her right knee. She tried to get back in time for the Sochi Games, only to reinjure the knee.

Before she tore up her knee, Vonn thought that perhaps this event would be her last major one. But she’s had second thoughts and hopes to stick around until the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. But those are thoughts for another time.

RELATED STORIES: Lindsey Vonn Story Archive

Her focus is on a new women’s race course dubbed “Raptor” that offers a little bit for everyone: It’s steep, tight, demanding and daunting.

In other words, perfect for Vonn. Lara Gut and Tina Maze, too. All the top ski racers, for that matter.

While the world championships always seem to produce a surprise winner or two, this is the kind of slope that really favors the favorites.

“The hill is so challenging. I think only the best can win,” Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather said.

And that’s why all eyes are on Vonn.

“She is skiing amazing,” Gut said. “She’s back and back to 100 percent. Lindsey, for sure (is a favorite).”

Same goes for Gut.

The skiers received a glimpse of the course in 2013, while Vonn was sidelined by her knee, and Gut dominated. The Swiss standout captured the super-G and downhill races.

“It just means I can be fast here. But I’m not the only one,” Gut said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Lindsey Vonn Wins 1st World Cup Race In Nearly 2 Years

There’s also Austria’s Anna Fenninger, the Olympic super-G champion in Sochi, and Maze, the defending world champion in the event from Slovenia.

Up until recently, the only exposure Vonn had to this tricky course was by video as she studied the nuances through a camera mounted on a helmet.

Then, she and the rest of the American team squeezed in some training on the terrain in early January.

“It’s in-your-face the entire way,” Vonn said. “Definitely very challenging. It’s going to be fun.”

Here are some things to know as the world championships return to Beaver Creek:

THE DEFENSE RESTS: Marion Rolland of France won’t get a chance to defend her downhill crown at worlds after tearing the ACL in her right knee in a crash during a super-G in mid-January. There won’t be a repeat winner in the super-combined, either, since reigning champ Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany retired from racing before the season.

STAR POWER: Don’t be surprised if Tiger Woods shows up, maybe even wearing that skeleton-patterned mask again to stay incognito. The golfer flew in to support Vonn in Italy as she broke Moser-Proell’s mark. It was a painful experience, though, as Woods got hit in the mouth by a camera and lost a tooth.

CAT FANCY: Fenninger is fast on the slopes. No wonder her favorite animal is the cheetah. She wears a cheetah-themed print on her helmet and serves as an ambassador for a group raising awareness for the plight of the big cat. Fenninger had quite a season last year, winning the World Cup overall title. The perfect season? “It was,” she said.

HOME COOKING: Olympic slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin said the best part of having worlds so close to her Eagle-Vail home is getting to sleep in her own bed. Shiffrin will defend her world slalom title on Feb. 14. She will also race in the giant slalom, but skip the super-combined because of the downhill course. “I don’t think I’m ready to race in that kind of speed environment,” Shiffrin said.

HOSP-ITALITY: Nicole Hosp of Austria is growing quite fond of Colorado snow. She won a slalom race in Aspen in November. Hosp said the Beaver Creek course fits her well since, “you have to ski with a lot of confidence. That’s what I like.”

– By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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