Winter sports: Vonn wins World Cup downhill race
Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy • Lindsey Vonn is back at full speed.
Vonn won a World Cup downhill race Saturday for her first victory in more than five weeks, beating overall leader Tina Maze by nearly half a second.
And most importantly, she's back to being fully healthy after a nasty bacterial problem that ate away the muscles in her powerful legs and sapped her energy the last few months.
"I'm excited to be racing, and I have that fire again and I trust that my body is strong enough to ski the way I want to ski," Vonn said. "It wasn't always the case in all the races this year. I'm back to my old self, and it's a good feeling."
Vonn clocked 1 minute, 38.25 seconds down the sun-drenched Olympia delle Tofane course. Maze, the current overall leader, finished second, 0.43 seconds behind, and Vonn's American teammate Leanne Smith was third, 0.89 back.
After failing to finish two consecutive races in France in mid-December, including an uncharacteristic fall in downhill, the discipline she's Olympic champion in, Vonn left the circuit for 27 days and missed six races. Having been hospitalized with an intestinal illness in November, she wondered whether she would win again this season.
"When I decided to take the break, I was so weak," said Vonn, adding that doctors never figured out exactly what type of bacterial problem she had. "I didn't know if I was going to be able to build enough strength back up in that short time to be able to race. My legs were skinny, I lost all my muscle, I had no endurance. I really was struggling physically to be where I was before."
Vonn didn't touch her skis during her time off in the United States.
"I was off snow completely," she said. "I was just in the gym working out two to three times a day, doing a lot of endurance training, a lot of weight training just really trying to get back to where I was in the fall, before I got sick."
Vonn finished sixth and fourth in a downhill and super-G, respectively in her first races back last weekend in St. Anton, Austria.
There was no stopping her this time.
Vonn made a slight error midway down and nearly touched her right hip to the snow. But she had the strength to regain her balance and keep charging.
"I finally feel like myself again," said Vonn, who already was celebrating and smiling before she came to a stop in the finish. "I feel healthy, finally, and I'm able to ski the way I want to. It's good to be back on top."