CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy — Lindsey Vonn is back at full speed.
Vonn won a World Cup downhill Saturday for her first victory in more than five weeks, beating overall leader Tina Maze by nearly half a second.
And most importantly, she’s back to being fully healthy after a nasty bacterial problem that ate away the muscles in her powerful legs and sapped her energy the last few months.
“I’m excited to be racing and I have that fire again and I trust that my body is strong enough to ski the way I want to ski,” Vonn said. “It wasn’t always the case in all the races this year. I’m back to my old self and it’s a good feeling.”
Vonn clocked 1 minute, 38.25 seconds down the sun-drenched Olympia delle Tofane course. Current overall leader Tina Maze finished second, 0.43 seconds behind, and Vonn’s American teammate Leanne Smith was third, 0.89 back.
After failing to finish two consecutive races in France in mid-December – including an uncharacteristic fall in downhill, the discipline she’s Olympic champion in – Vonn left the circuit for 27 days and missed six races. Having been hospitalized with an intestinal illness in November, she wondered whether she would win again this season.
“When I decided to take the break, I was so weak,” said Vonn, adding that doctors never figured out exactly what type of bacterial problem she had. “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to build enough strength back up in that short time to be able to race. My legs were skinny, I lost all my muscle, I had no endurance. I really was struggling physically to be where I was before.”
The race was held in perfect conditions, with temperatures well below the freezing mark making for hard snow, and clear skies allowing fans to marvel at the jagged snow-dusted peaks, which are some of the most spectacular in the Dolomite Range.
Vonn earned her seventh win in Cortina and the 58th of her career, moving within four of the all-time record held by Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Proell.
“St. Anton was a good performance, but definitely not my best,” Vonn said. “Cortina is a place where I’ve had a lot of success, so I knew what I needed to do and I was finally able to put all of the pieces together.”
Vonn’s last win was a super-G on Dec. 8 in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
MEN’S WORLD CUP: In Wengen, Switzerland, Christof Innerhofer won the classic Lauberhorn downhill Saturday, and Johan Clarey set a World Cup speed record of 100.6 mph.
Innerhofer timed 2 minutes, 29.82 seconds down the 2.74-mile course, the longest on the World Cup program.
Klaus Kroell of Austria was second, 0.30 seconds behind, while teammate Hannes Reichelt was 0.76 back in third.
Clarey, who placed fifth, clocked the fastest speed recorded in competition in the 46-year history of the World Cup. He did it at the Hanneggschuss straight two minutes into his run.
SKI JUMP: In Sappora, Japan, Jan Matura earned his first career ski jump World Cup victory Saturday by winning a large hill event.
Matura landed jumps of 132 and 135 meters to score a total of 249.5 points and defeated Tom Hilde by just 0.7 points.