Vonn off to fast start, opens big World Cup lead

By Pat Graham

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 6 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

"They realize how difficult this situation is for me," Vonn said. "It's brought us as a team of girls closer together. I just feel like the attitude and energy on the team is really good right now.

"It's been really great for me to have so much support from everyone, from my teammates and coaches. I definitely wouldn't be able to do it without them."

Vonn has been dialed in with very little rattling her on the course. Part of that has to do with her health — other than a sore back earlier this season, she's been basically injury free — and the rest to her determination.

"When I'm in the starting gate, I'm not nervous at all. I know what I have to do to ski well and I just go out there and do it," Vonn said. "I don't really second guess myself.

"I think that's the reason why I've had more success this year than maybe in past years."

Plus, there's always this incentive dangling in front of her — getting her crown back. Vonn lost last season when Hoefl-Riesch beat her by three points after the season's final race was called off because of poor course conditions.

She's attempting to lock this title up early so that it doesn't come down to Mother Nature again. Vonn has accumulated 1,350 points so far this season, putting her ahead of Slovenia's Tim Maze (868) and Hoefl-Riesch (796).

Soon, Vonn & Co. will be heading to Sochi, Russia, to test out the Olympic course. Vonn can't wait to catch a glimpse of the slope where she will try to defend her downhill title.

"I'll ingrain it in my mind," Vonn said. "I'll do the same thing as Vancouver and visualize it over the next two years and hopefully be ready for the Olympics in 2014."

For now, she will keep her focus on smoothly gliding down the slopes even with her turmoil away from the mountain.

"I feel like no matter what's going on in my personal life, I can always put my skis on and go out and clear my mind and really have fun. Skiing has been honestly the best thing for me at this point in my life," Vonn said. "It's hard to describe. Things, on the personal front, they're not any better than they were a few months ago.

"But I feel very clear minded when I'm skiing and I am enjoying it more than I ever have."

Follow AP Sports Writer Pat Graham on Twitter: http://twitter.com/pgraham34.

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