ST. MORITZ, Switzerland: Lindsey Vonn’s return from her latest injury will face a further acid test in Friday’s (Saturday in Manila) alpine combined event, but the American speed queen warned that she was capable of churning out one slalom run despite a lack of practice.
Vonn looked comfortable in downhill training runs on Wednesday and Thursday, the speed event specialist also enjoying a first slalom training in 12 months on Wednesday.
“It was interesting!” Vonn joked about her slalom outing. “I think what my legs were doing was pretty good considering I haven’t skied slalom since the combined in Andorra last year.”
Vonn fractured the humerus in her right arm in November and has made a remarkable return to the slopes, albeit with gripping problems in her hand.
This was shown up when she struggled to maintain her grip on her pole in Tuesday’s super-G. The distraction was enough to see her ski out.
“It was definitely difficult to keep my hand up,” Vonn said of the challenges of doing slalom.
“I definitely have to tape it pretty solidly for the race, but I think I will be good enough for one race of slalom.”
Vonn said she had no choice but to use duct tape to attach her pole to her hand.
“There’s not so much worry about it for slalom but definitely in the downhill,” acknowledged the 32-year-old, a three-time winner of World Cup combined title.
“I try to tape it tight enough so that I don’t lose the grip, but also loose enough that if for some reason my hand gets caught the tape will rip off and I can get rid of my pole.
“It’s better having a little tape and make sure I don’t lose my pole than not having any at all.
“It helped getting a better grip on the pole and have a little bit of a better feel for it. It’s going to help, hopefully I can focus on racing and not whether the pole’s in my hand!”
Vonn will face a stiff challenge in the alpine combined, which features a downhill followed by a slalom with the gold medal going to the owner of the best combined times.
Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec has topped the two downhill training runs and was the winner of the sole women’s combined event this season, in Val d’Isere in December.
Lara Gut, winner of world combined silver back in 2009 when she was just 17 years old, will have the support of the home crowd desperate to see her improve on her bronze in the super-G.
“That’s what we like: sunshine and lots of people coming up, so I’ll try to do my best and enjoy my runs,” Gut vowed Thursday.
Italian Sofia Goggia, Swiss duo Michelle Gisin and Wendy Holdener, and Austrian Anna Veith, the latter two World Cup combined winners in the last two seasons, should also be in the running.
One racer who will be missing is Vonn’s American teammate Julia Mancuso, a two-time Olympic medallist in combined (silver in Vancouver and bronze in Sochi).
Mancuso is coming back from hip surgery that saw her miss all of last season and after Thursday’s downhill training, the 32-year-old was quick to play down any thoughts about a hasty return to proper competition.
“I’m feeling better, every run is better,” she said. “Today I felt I took a step in the right direction.
“I’m trying to get some of my lost time back, and every run is helping me for next year, that’s my main goal. In a perfect world I’d be competing well this year but I can’t expect much coming back in January.”