BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Lindsey Vonn came to Beaver Creek to win world championship medals. She already has six, more than any other American ski racer, including the bronze that she won in super-G on Tuesday.
But on perhaps the most difficult downhill course that the women have skied, she came up short.
Vonn finished fifth, just over a second behind winner Tina Maze from Slovenia. Anna Fenninger, the Austrian who won the women’s super-G on Tuesday, was second and Lara Gut, who won the world cup when it came to Beaver Creek in December 2013, rounded out the medals.
“I tried my best,” said Vonn. “I was extremely motivated and determined. When I went out of the starting gate, I had a really good feeling. I don’t know. I just didn’t quite do it today.”
Vonn came to the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships as the leader in the overall world cup downhill standings, and she has won three of the last five world cup downhill races this season. In fact, half of her record 64 world cup wins are in downhill; the 30-year-old champion has a knack for “sniffing out” the fall line, said American downhill legend Picabo Street, who was watching in Beaver Creek.
Coming into the world championship downhill, Vonn was touted as a favorite to win here in Beaver Creek on her home course.
But the Raptor downhill is really not Vonn’s course. Not yet, at least. Due to her knee re-injury in November 2013, she missed the Beaver Creek World Cup last December — which served as a test event for world championships and was the first time the women had raced on Raptor course.
The first time that Vonn skied Raptor was in training a month ago. Then she had two training runs leading up today’s downhill. But conditions were different during those runs — windy on Monday, then with soft snow yesterday.
“You have to hit the line right in a couple of key sections,” said Vonn. “Today, with the faster speeds, my timing was a little bit off. Sometimes I was a little bit too early, sometimes a little bit too late. I just really haven’t gotten a great feel for the course yet. I’m the only one that didn’t do the downhill last year in the test world cup. I tried my best. It just wasn’t my day unfortunately.”
While Vonn struggled to find her rhythm, Maze — who tied for gold in the 2014 Olympic downhill — attacked. She nailed her line, taking the key gates coming onto the steep section with a wider, cleaner line. She had only recently figured out how to ski the hill and was having fun with it.
“It wasn’t easy for me to understand it at first,” said Maze. “But when I understood the timing of the turns and where you should start the turn, then it was much easier for me.”
Vonn directly followed the Slovenian in the running order. She was ahead of Maze on the flatter top section but then dumped speed as she came onto the steep part of Raptor. As soon as Maze saw Vonn’s time splits, the Slovenian knew that she had won her first gold medal in a world championship downhill.
“Even though Lindsey is a good glider, I knew it wouldn’t be enough for her to win,” said Maze.
Even without a medal, Vonn was happy with the day.
“I’m going home happy because I skied my best,” she said. “My family is here, there’s amazing atmosphere, it’s sunny, there’s not a lot to be sad about. I wish I could have done more, of course. I did my best.”
The three other U.S. women also struggled on the Raptor. Julia Mancuso, Laurenne Ross and Stacey Cook — who was injured in a training crash yesterday — finished 16-17-19, respectively.
They all found the course bumpier and faster than in the training runs. And Cook wasn’t even sure if she would be able to race today. Although her training crash was not scary, she careened into the safety netting lining the course after she fell and bruised her left arm and strained her right thumb.
“It was a painful afternoon and evening, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to pull off some of those forces (today),” she said.
Vonn, Ross and Mancuso are now looking ahead to the super combined on Sunday. And Vonn said she also plans to compete in the giant slalom.
“I still have two more chances (to win a medal), the super combined and the GS,” she said. “Although my chances of doing something there are slim, I will definitely be giving 110 percent effort and hopefully I can make a miracle happen.”
When asked if she has trained slalom recently, she laughed. The super combined is one downhill run and one slalom run.
“I have not skied slalom in two-and-a-half years,” she laughed, “so this is going to be fun.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.