LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Not far from the finish line she crossed minutes earlier for World Cup downhill training, Lindsey Vonn smiled as she chatted with U.S. teammates Julia Mancuso, Stacey Cook and Leanne Smith.
Then Vonn found friend and rival Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany and shared a laugh with her.
Closing in on competing for the first time in 10 months, Vonn was pleased to be back on the elite ski racing scene Wednesday, completing a safe training run and declaring her surgically repaired right knee “stable.”
Vonn said she will wait until after the training run scheduled for Thursday to decide whether to race this week for the first time since a high-speed crash at the world championships in February where she tore two ligaments in her knee and broke a bone in her lower leg.
“Happy to be out there,” Vonn said. “And, yeah, I’m looking forward to improving for the races, hopefully.”
There are downhill events slated for Friday and Saturday, and a super-G on Sunday at a mountain where Vonn has earned 14 of her 59 career World Cup race wins. That includes three-victory sweeps in both 2011 and 2012.
“It was my first run, so I was, of course, a little bit nervous,” the four-time overall World Cup champion and 2010 Olympic downhill gold medalist said.
“First training run. First kind of real race situation since February,” Vonn added. “So it’s been a long time, and I’m really happy.”
As for her knee, the one in which she partially re-tore one of those reconstructed ligaments in a fall last month during practice in Colorado?
“Knee feels good. Feels stable,” Vonn said. “And, you know, just going to play it by ear tomorrow and make a decision on the race.”
The biggest factor for Friday will be making sure there’s no swelling in her right knee so it won’t affect her thigh’s ability to react and “fire appropriately,” said Vonn, who is three race wins from equaling the World Cup women’s record of 62 held by Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proell.
The temperature dropped below zero Wednesday, and Vonn sniffled occasionally as she spoke near the finish line.
The American covered the course in 1 minute, 59.53 seconds, the 22nd-fastest time among the 65 skiers who finished Wednesday.
Carolina Ruiz Castillo of Spain was fastest in training at 1:57.40, followed by past overall World Cup champions Hoefl-Riesch in 1:57.41, and Tina Maze of Slovenia in 1:58.06. Current overall World Cup leader Lara Gut of Switzerland was fifth, Cook was sixth, Mancuso ninth, and Smith 28th.
What mattered to Vonn — and her teammates — more than her time was that she was out there. She was quick at the top, then increasingly lost time as she progressed down the mountain in the Canadian Rockies.
“It’s cool to have Lindsey back. She always brings a pretty positive attitude,” said U.S. teammate Laurenne Ross, the third starter Wednesday who sent up a course report via walkie-talkie for the later American skiers. “Even with her injuries and stuff, she seems to be pretty high-spirited.”
Vonn said she “can’t really put a percentage on” how hard she was trying to charge and repeatedly acknowledged feeling jitters about getting back on a World Cup slope. She had hoped to return last week at Beaver Creek, Colo., not far from her home in Vail, but her setback from the crash on Nov. 19 scrapped those plans.
She told The Associated Press last weekend that she needs another operation on her right knee but is trying to put it off as long as possible in order to be able to ski at the Sochi Olympics, which begin in a little more than two months.
Asked Wednesday how much she’s thinking about Sochi, Vonn said she has to worry about more immediate matters.
“I’m just trying to make sure things are good with my knee, and build confidence every day, and right now I’m focused on this particular moment,” she said. “Yeah, Sochi is obviously quite a way’s away. Just trying to stay focused and focus on my knee and get my confidence back.”