SCHLADMING, Austria — All through her career, Lindsey Vonn has been slowed by injuries at major championships – crashes and concussions; a sliced thumb and bruised shin.
This year, she feels as good as ever and the timing couldn’t be better.
“I’m finally coming in healthy,” Vonn said Sunday. “I’m definitely getting ready to get my game face on.”
Next up are the world championships. They begin Tuesday with the women’s super-G, one of the races in which Vonn is the favorite.
This season, she took nearly a month off to fully recover from an intestinal illness that landed her in the hospital in November. She returned last month and won two races.
“I’ve never taken a break during the season before,” Vonn said. “This is the first time I’m coming to world championships healthy and very rested. This is probably the most prepared I’ve ever been for world championships.”
Vonn has been hit by injuries at her last five major championships.
She pulled out midway through the last worlds in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, because of a mild concussion. At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Vonn skied despite a severely bruised shin to win the downhill and take bronze in the super-G.
At the 2009 worlds in Val d’Isere, France, she sliced her thumb open on a champagne bottle after sweeping gold in the downhill and super-G, forcing her out of the giant slalom. At the 2007 worlds in Are, Sweden, Vonn injured her knee in training and missed her final two events.
And at the 2006 Turin Olympics, she had a horrific crash in downhill training and went directly from her hospital room to the mountain to compete in four of her five events.
While Vonn has won four of the past five overall World Cup titles, she’s under no illusions about this season’s race. Slovenia’s Tina Maze is running away with the title.
Maze has won seven races to Vonn’s six and has more than twice as many points as second-place Maria Hoefl-Riesch. Vonn is third overall.
“I don’t really think there’s been a rivalry, considering I had some intestinal problems,” Vonn said. “I don’t really compare myself to (Maze) because I took that break and missed a lot of races. She’s had an exceptional year and I think it’s great for the sport that she’s skiing so well and clearly dominating.”
Vonn’s American teammates have also been performing well.
Teenager Mikaela Shiffrin has won three slalom races this season. Alice McKennis won for first time in her career, a downhill. Stacey Cook, Julia Mancuso and Leanne Smith have finished on the podium.
“There’s going to be a lot of competition, but I think it’s very possible that the Americans can dominate the podium here,” Vonn said. “The way everyone is skiing is incredible. Pretty much everyone on our team has been on the podium this year and I’ve been with the team for a long time and it’s never been like that before. I think all the girls know that they can win any day and everyone’s pushing each other. It’s just a great atmosphere.”
There has been so much success that the team will have a tough time selecting its four starters for the downhill. While Vonn and McKennis qualified automatically, four other skiers – Cook, Mancuso, Smith and Laurenne Ross – will be competing for the other two spots.
“Usually the Austrian team is confronted with a situation like that but over the last couple of years our team got that strong, so I’m in this lucky but also very difficult situation,” head coach Alex Hoedlmoser said, adding that the deicision will likely be made after the second training session.
Vonn will likely race in only four individual events, skipping the slalom.
“She didn’t have enough training and it doesn’t really make sense,” Hoedlmoser said. “All that counts here is medals. But we’ll see how it goes. If she has a bunch of gold medals going into that maybe she’s going to try the slalom, too.”