Vonn off to fast start, opens big World Cup lead

By Pat Graham

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 6 2012 4:30 p.m. MST

Lindsey Vonn, of the United States, smiles after winning an alpine ski, women's World Cup downhill, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012. Vonn captured her 50th World Cup career victory by winning the downhill on the demanding Kandahar course on Saturday. The American is third on the all-time list, behind Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria with 62 victories and Vreni Schneider of Switzerland with 55. Vonn now has 25 downhill wins, second behind Moser-Proell's 36.

Giovanni Auletta, Associated Press

Lindsey Vonn is shining on the slopes and outracing the struggles in her personal life.

The Olympic downhill champion may be going through a divorce with her husband and may be dealing with persistent rumors over who she's dating, but the distractions have hardly affected her performance on the hill.

Vonn is off to one of the best starts of her career, leading the World Cup overall standings by a whopping 482 points as she tries to claim the title back from friend and top rival Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany.

Over the weekend, the 27-year-old Vonn reached yet another milestone — earning her 50th career victory during a dramatic downhill run in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where she momentarily went down on her hip, only to spring back up and glide through the finish like nothing had even happened.

With that, she joined a select few to reach the hallowed mark. Among the women, only Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria (62) and Vreni Schneider of Switzerland (55) are ahead of Vonn.

On the men's side, just three have reached 50 wins: Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden (86), Hermann Maier of Austria (54) and Alberto Tomba of Italy (50).

To even be mentioned in the same sentence as Tomba was quite flattering for Vonn.

"I never dreamed I would have reached the success that they've reached in their careers," Vonn said. "I still have a lot of years of racing in me. I never expected it."

These days, the slopes have become Vonn's sanctuary, her refuge from what's going on in the rest of her life. Earlier this season, she separated from Thomas Vonn, her husband of four years and her personal coach. Gone were the little things, too, like how he always made sure she didn't conduct too many interviews or attend too many functions.

She realizes the integral role he played in her development.

"He has done a lot to help me. We made a great team together," said Vonn, who's won nine races this season.

Although they no longer work together, he's proud of her success.

"I'm really happy for Lindsey, 50 World Cup wins is an amazing accomplishment," Thomas Vonn wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "I know firsthand how much hard work went into this, and that it did not come easy. I have no doubt that 50 wins is just the beginning for her and that she will go down in history as one of the greatest skiers of all time."

After the breakup, Lindsey Vonn began working with another coach, Jeff Fergus, who has been with the U.S. speed team for six years.

"No matter who my coach is, I still know how to ski race," Vonn said. "It's definitely been difficult in many ways. It' a different routine now, different coaches around, different emotions. There are different personal aspects that I have to take care of every day that are not fun. That's what my life is now.

"But I know how to ski no matter what the situation is. I don't think that will ever change."

Vonn also is in the process of rekindling her relationship with her father, Alan Kildow, after a falling out a few years ago. He was the person who introduced her to skiing and even moved the family from Minnesota to Colorado to hone her talent.

And he was on hand to see his daughter capture such an historic win.

"It's something special to get 50 wins, but even more special to share that with your family," she said.

And not to mention teammates. Her struggles away from the race course have brought her closer to the squad. They've been a shoulder to lean on through the hard times.

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