Lindsey Vonn made progress with her confidence at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada.
Meanwhile, Ted Ligety and Bode Miller blew away the FIS Audi World Cup competition with a 1-2 giant slalom finish at Beaver Creek, Colo.
The World Cup made its final stops in North America during the 2013-14 Olympic season with some encouraging signs for the U.S. Ski Team.
Four-time World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn, 29, of Vail, Colo. skied confidently into the top five in the Lake Louise super giant slalom Sunday. Vonn showed her strength and ability to ski for the win for the first time since her return to the World Cup circuit Friday.
Leanne Smith of North Conway, N.H. finished just behind Vonn in sixth, finding the familiar form that exemplifies the USST speed squad.
Vonn, a 59-time World Cup winner and America’s most successful alpine ski racer ever, didn’t compete during the Nature Valley Raptor women’s World Cup race event at Beaver Creek over Thanksgiving weekend, having sustained injuries as a result of a downhill training fall Nov. 19 at the USST Speed Center at Copper Mountain. Vonn partially tore one of her reconstructed knee ligaments in that fall.
She first injured her right knee during a high-speed accident in the FIS World Alpine Ski Championships SG race last Feb. 5 at Schladming, Aust.
Vonn went to Lake Louise last weekend to test her knee in downhill training. She ended up racing in three races on back-to-back days—placing 40th and 11th (the top American) in the Friday and Saturday downhills, then fifth in Sunday’s SG.
After her 11th place downhill finish Saturday, Vonn said, “I definitely did a much better job today. I was much more confident and I went out and I attacked. It’s a great step and I was much more aggressive today, much more self-confident.
“My goal is definitely still to be as prepared as possible for Sochi so I’m going to look again at the schedule after this weekend. I don’t know if that means I’ll race some races or no races or all of the races. I really don’t know what that means yet. My focus is Sochi and however I can come into those Olympics the most prepared is what I’m going to do.
“I’m optimistic. I learned that from my mom. The glass is half full and I was dealt a really bad hand and I’m going to play my cards to the best of my ability. It’s like chess. You have to map out your strategy and I’m going to take this season like a chess game. I’m going to play my cards the best that I can and hopefully I’ll be in a check-mate position when it comes to the Olympics.”
Last weekend’s Lake Louise downhill winner was 5-11 German star Maria Hoefl-Riesch, 29. Winning back-to-back in downhill at Lake Louise was a feat accomplished by Hoefl-Riesch’s friend Vonn just 12 months ago. Hoefl-Riesch earned her 25th and 26th World Cup wins, improved to 10 wins in downhill, five of them coming at Lake Louise.
Sunday’s SG winner at Lake Louise was 22-year-old Lara Gut of Switzerland, a 5-3 dynamo from Sorengo, Ticino. Gut also won twice at Beaver Creek recently in downhill and SG. She now has seven career wins.
With her win, World Cup overall leader Gut, a three-time World Championship silver medalist in her sixth World Cup campaign, made it four wins in the eight races this season. She is the reigning world SG queen.
Gut retained her overall lead 446-405 over second-place Hoefl-Riesch, the 2011 World Cup overall who now lives in Kitzbuehel, Aust. Tied for third place with 345 points through eight events (3 DH, 2 SG, 2 GS, 1 SL) are Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein and Anna Fenninger of Austria.
American gate specialist Mikaela Shiffrin, 18, is ranked sixth with 220 points and Vonn is 25th with 69 points, 45 coming from Sunday’s SG.
Next: The U.S. women take a bit more confidence to race super G and giant slalom at St. Moritz, Switz. Dec. 14-15 and then they move to Val d’Isere, Fra. for downhill and giant slalom Dec. 21-22.
Riveting finish in giant slalom
Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) and Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) produced a riveting one-two giant slalom finish for the U.S. Ski Team Sunday to close the Audi Birds of Prey race week in Beaver Creek.
It was the first time two Americans shared the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup giant slalom podium since Miller and Daron Rahlves went one-two during the 2005 Birds of Prey giant slalom in Beaver Creek.
Ligety, 29, won the race with a comfortable, second-plus margin. It was his fourth consecutive World Cup giant slalom victory and third straight in Beaver Creek. Ligety is the first to win four straight in GS since Italy’s Alberto Tomba in 1991.
Sunday marked Ligety’s 10th straight World Cup giant slalom podium. That is the second-longest streak of giant slaloms podiums in World Cup history, and with it Ligety joins Tomba, Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden and American Phil Mahre.
It was the first giant slalom podium for Miller since March of 2007.
Snow fell throughout the day and made for difficult visibility with soft snow conditions that later turned bumpy.
Ligety said, “The visibility was really tough. There was so much snow in the track. You couldn’t really tell where the good snow was and where the soft snow was. That was definitely an issue but it was kind of the same for everybody so it was what it was and you just went for it.”
On Saturday, Super G world champion Ligety found his speed in the Audi Birds of Prey SG finishing fifth, just one tenth of a second from the podium, in front of a roaring Beaver Creek crowd.
Five-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller, 36, made a stunning recovery to finish 14th behind winner Patrick Kueng of Switzerland. In Friday’s downhill, Miller rallied into 13th-place despite continuous snow and sub-zero temperatures in the Audi Birds of Prey World Cup opening.
Miller, who is back on the World Cup tour after taking a year off to heal his knee, moved up in the results again this week to show continual progress as he guns for a historic fifth Olympics. Miller said, “I thought I skied pretty well. I hit the line that I wanted to. I made all the adjustments that I wanted to from yesterday and I took some risk in the turns. I skied the way I needed to ski.”
Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, Friday’s downhill winner, leads the World Cup men’s overall standings after seven events (2 DH, 2 SG, 2 GS, 1 SL) with 360 points over second-place Ligety (269) and third-place Marcel Hirscher of Austria (235). Miller is seventh with 153.
The American men head to Val d’Isere for giant slalom and slalom Dec. 14-15 and then to Val Gardena for super G and downhill Dec. 20-21.