Vonn takes aim at reclaiming overall title

By Pat Graham

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Nov. 7 2011 1:50 p.m. MST

FILE - In this oct. 22, 2011 file photo, United States' Lindsey Vonn speeds down the course during an alpine ski, women's giant slalom in Soelden, Austria. Vonn started the season with quite a two-step: Winning her first giant slalom race and attending her inaugural homecoming dance with a teenager who just happened to strike up enough courage to ask her out.

Shinichiro Tanaka, File, Associated Press

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — Lindsey Vonn has found her rhythm on the ski slopes and the dance floor.

The Olympic gold medalist turned in quite a two-step to start the season, capturing her first giant slalom race last month followed by attending her first homecoming dance with a teenager who gathered up enough courage to ask her out.

So far, she has all the right moves in a season that could be shaping up to be quite memorable for Vonn, who's attempting to reclaim the overall World Cup crown she lost to Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany last year.

One of the challenges, though, may be striking the right balance between staying sharp on the slope and honing her image away from it. Vonn doesn't like to tap the brakes on the course or in life, preferring to go at top speed all the time.

Her calendar — much like her recent dance card — is quite full.

That's why she has a "No" person in husband and adviser Thomas Vonn, who makes sure Vonn doesn't become overextended.

"He's the one that's like, 'OK, really? That's enough. You need to take a break, take a rest,'" Vonn said. "Most of the time I'm like, 'I'm good.' He knows me really well, knows when I've had enough."

In between her season-opening giant slalom win in Soelden, Austria, nearly three weeks ago and taking part in the U.S. Ski Team's formal announcement of the squad over the weekend, Vonn has been all over the place.

She attended a ski ball in New York, along with taking part in a photo shoot for a sponsor and a magazine story, before flying to Las Vegas to participate in an event for tennis great Andre Agassi's foundation.

Vonn of Vail, Colo. also found time to speak with kids at an elementary school in Denver on behalf of Vail Resorts and showed up for a function at the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, where 15-year-old Parker McDonald found the perfect last-minute homecoming date in the school lunch room. By finding the nerve to ask Vonn to the dance, he instantly became the envy of all the boys in the school, possibly boys all over the world.

"Parker was a great date. He was a gentleman," said Vonn, who posted pictures of the evening on her Facebook page. "It's pretty funny to think that my first homecoming would come at the age of 27."

Or that until Soelden she had never won a World Cup giant slalom event, especially since she's been so dominant in everything else.

That discipline has always been her bugaboo, possibly even costing her a fourth overall crown last winter as she finished three points behind Hoefl-Riesch after the season's final race was called off because of poor course conditions. Hoefl-Riesch had a 192-158 advantage in the giant slalom last season.

The disparity led Vonn to concentrate even more on improving that portion of her skiing, spending even more time in a San Diego gym working on her explosive power to better navigate the twisting and technical courses.

She even switched over to a men's version of the giant slalom ski for this season, simply because it provided more stability and power.

Instant success.

And with her electric finish in Soelden, Vonn became the fifth female skier ever to win a race in all five Alpine disciplines. She's also the second American skier to complete the discipline sweep, joining Bode Miller.

Even more, the victory in the giant slalom lifted a weight off her shoulder.

"It does open up the door to a lot more confidence for me," said Vonn, who now has 42 World Cup wins, tying her with Sweden's Anja Paerson for fourth place on the all-time list. "It's going to allow me to ski with a lot more freedom, a lot more relaxed."

Just what the competition wanted to hear.

These days, Vonn's wins aren't the only thing drawing headlines. Her relationship with friend and top rival Hoefl-Riesch has been the subject of much scrutiny as well. Their bond became strained when Hoefl-Riesch blamed Vonn for not congratulating her on the overall victory, while Vonn decided to stay away from the German's wedding in April.

Hoefl-Riesch and Vonn patched things up in August while both were training with their respective national teams in New Zealand. They also agreed to keep their relationship private.

"We want the story to be about ski racing and not about tabloid drama," said Vonn. "That's not good for either of us and I don't think it's good for the sport."

What is healthy for the sport is Vonn's soaring popularity. This summer, Vonn won the best female athlete category at the ESPY Awards.

While in Los Angeles for the ceremony, she rubbed elbows with some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment, taking photos with Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, UFC star Georges St. Pierre and singer Justin Bieber.

"That's my goal, to try to make ski racing more popular and get it the recognition it deserves," Vonn said. "I try to do as much as I can while still being able to train the way I want to. If it fits in with my schedule, I'm all for it.

"These are events I'll remember for the rest of my life."

AP Sports Writer Pat Graham can be reached at http://twitter.com/pgraham34

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS