Lindsey Vonn heads home for world championships in great shape to win, cap comeback season



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ST. MORITZ, Switzerland — Exceeding expectations in her comeback season, Lindsey Vonn now heads to her hometown world championships injury-free and winning races in style.

That is a rare luxury, the Alpine ski star reflected Sunday, after running her women's World Cup wins record mark to 64 with an impressive super-G victory.

Vonn's mastery of a tricky course setting meant only one racer, Olympic super-G champion Anna Fenninger of Austria, finished within a second of her winning time.

"This is definitely the healthiest I've been going into a big event, for sure," said the 30-year-old American, due to arrive home Monday in Vail, Colorado, one week ahead of the two-yearly worlds.

Vonn's pursuit of Olympic and world titles has often been hampered by injury and crashes in the days before racing.

Her three career gold medals are outnumbered by four giant crystal globe trophies won for scoring the most all-around points in the grueling World Cup season.

To find Vonn in such good shape is remarkable after she twice blew out her right knee in 2013. First, in her opening super-G race at the previous worlds, held in Schladming, Austria, and a second which kept her from the Sochi Olympics.

"It's nice to finally feel healthy again," said Vonn, who has won five World Cup speed races this season. "After every race I have muscle pain and my knees hurt a little bit, but it's nothing new."

Still, she just won three times in a stellar eight-day span to prepare for a world championships staged on her local Beaver Creek course.

Vonn recalled feeling this good for a gold-medal challenge only before the 2009 worlds, when she took downhill and super-G titles at Val d'Isere, France.

This being Lindsey Vonn, she lacerated her right thumb on a broken champagne bottle at a sponsor's party to celebrate that downhill win and almost jeopardized the rest of her dominating season.

On Sunday, a super-G win at St. Moritz repeated her feat of 2010 when it had seemed the perfect send-off in Europe for the Vancouver Olympics where she was expected to shine.

Vonn did indeed win her Olympic downhill title five years ago, though only after injuring her right shin in training which added drama and uncertainty.

"Don't jinx me," Vonn said Sunday when asked about her star-crossed luck. "So, hopefully in the next training days nothing happens."

Everything about Vonn's latest victory suggests she learned enough to stay safe before her first medal race, the super-G on Feb. 3.

Vonn found a fast racing line through a challenging set of gates. A tight turn into the finish tricked several rivals, including double Sochi gold medalist Tina Maze of Slovenia.

On crossing the finish line, Vonn raised both arms in the air and bowed to the cheering Swiss crowd who appreciated her impressive run.

Fenninger acknowledged being outsmarted higher up the course.

"It was really good skiing on the last two sections," the 24-year-old overall World Cup champion said. "I think that is the way you can beat Lindsey but it has to be for the whole run."

Vonn now leads the season-long super-G standings from Fenninger.

"Sometimes it's nice to be a veteran on the tour," said Vonn, who debuted in a World Cup slalom aged 16 in November 2000. "I knew a few gates that would cause trouble."

Such veteran savvy should help her manage the demands of being a home-team favorite for the two-week championships — the first on American snow since the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

"I know the limit and I know how to handle my schedule," said Vonn, who will stay in relative calm at the team hotel. "My whole family will be at my house so I want to separate myself."

Her father, Alan Kildow, was again course-side to watch. He also attended last Monday at Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, when another super-G win set a wins record for Vonn which arrived so soon after such serious injuries.

"She works so hard physically on the rehabilitation that I knew she would be in good shape," Kildow said. "But to come that far back, that quickly, is, I won't say it's surprising, but ... you know."

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