Vonn at peace after trying yet stellar season

By Pat Graham

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 31 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Lindsey Vonn skis out her run after not finishing the women's giant slalom skiing event during the U.S. Alpine Championships Saturday, March 31, 2012, in Winter Park, Colo.

Jim Urquhart, Associated Press

WINTER PARK, Colo. — Lindsey Vonn leisurely glided down the outer edge of the sun-toasted course rather than through the gates.

And the clock which had been tracking her progress had long since stopped — a big "did not finish" appearing in its place on the scoreboard.

The Olympic gold medalist missed a gate early in her run at the U.S. championships on Saturday as her aching knees were unable to withstand the bumps on the rutted hill.

She's been in persistent pain this season, something she's kept hidden but was so aggravating that she's scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on Monday.

That ache she could conceal. The one in her heart, well, it was on display for the world to see.

Back in November, Vonn kicked off the World Cup circuit on rough footing after separating from Thomas Vonn, her husband of four years.

"My world, to some extent, felt like it was crashing down around me," Vonn said. "I didn't think I'd be able to stay focused and ski fast."

Oh, but she did.

For Vonn, the slopes have always been her sanctuary, the place where nothing bothers or distracts her. She can tune everything out and concentrate on the thing she does so well — ski fast. Vonn recaptured the overall title by amassing 1,980 points, the best season ever by a female skier.

Along the way, she also repaired the relationship with her father, Alan Kildow, and re-established bonds with teammates such as Julia Mancuso.

She found what's been missing for quite some time — inner peace.

"I was skiing for me," said Vonn, who will compete next season again as Vonn, instead of returning to her maiden name of Kildow. "This was the first season I really realized that I'm the one in the starting gate and I'm the one that's actually racing. That gave me a lot of confidence."

Her father noticed the difference, too.

From thousands of miles away in Minnesota, Kildow watched his daughter charge down the slopes in Europe with a sense of purpose. She had a go-for-broke attitude, an unwillingness to settle for anything less than first.

Before, maybe Vonn would be content with a podium finish. Not anymore. Now, it's pedal to the floor at all times.

"The joy of skiing — that's what we saw this year," her father told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "The joy of skiing again. That's great to see."

Kildow introduced his daughter to skiing and even moved the family to Colorado to develop that skill.

But they had a falling out a few years ago, the tension stemming in part from Vonn's relationship with Thomas Vonn, a former U.S. Olympic skier who is nearly nine years older.

That's in the past. The father and daughter are focused on reconnecting.

Kildow ventured out to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, in February and had a front-row seat as Vonn captured her 50th race.

Very few skiers have reached such a distinguished milestone. Among the women, only Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria (62) and Vreni Schneider of Switzerland (55) are ahead of Vonn. On the men's said, just three men have 50 or more: Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden (86), Hermann Maier of Austria (54) and Alberto Tomba of Italy (50).

"Just a thrill to be there and see her do so well," Kildow said.

To celebrate, the family all went out for a big dinner. That meant a lot to Kildow, who's grateful for another chance to be a figure in her life.

His role now is simple: He won't try to coach or dispense advice, just be a proud parent.

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