LAKE LOUISE, Alberta — With her eyes wide and a big smile, Lindsey Vonn declared herself ready to race for the first time in 10 months.
In an interview with The Associated Press and USA Today Sports, Vonn said she will return to competition in a World Cup downhill Friday, the latest major step in her push to get ready for the Sochi Olympics.
She has not raced since a high-speed crash at the world championships in February, when she tore two ligaments in her right knee and broke a bone in her lower leg. About 2½ weeks ago, Vonn partially re-tore one of those reconstructed ligaments in a crash while training in Colorado.
“You kind of know if your body is ready or not, and I feel like mine’s ready,” Vonn said Thursday.
“I’m really excited. It’s been a long time coming. But ... it doesn’t feel like I’ve been gone that long. It just feels like the start of a new season,” the 29-year-old American said. “To me, this feels pretty awesome.”
The 2010 Olympic downhill gold medalist and four-time overall World Cup champion said her right knee felt fine and did not swell up after Wednesday’s training run at Lake Louise, where she has a seven-race winning streak. She waited until the evening to see how the knee would hold up before deciding she would get in the starting gate Friday.
“It usually swells pretty soon after if there’s trauma. It definitely doesn’t take very long to tell, to see if it’s going to get swollen or not, but I just gave it the whole day and nothing happened, thankfully,” Vonn said. “So all positive signs.”
Vonn plans to enter all three races this weekend. There is another downhill Saturday and a super-G on Sunday. She considered taking part in Thursday’s second downhill training run before opting to skip it, in large part because she knows the hill so well.
“It was just a matter of: Did I nail the line? That was the goal yesterday — to ski solid, but ski the line, ski my race line. And I did that,” Vonn said. “So I knew that if I could accomplish all those things in one run, I don’t need a second run.”
After turning in the fastest time in the second training run, 2011 overall World Cup champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany was asked about Vonn’s decision to skip Thursday and race Friday.
“She’s saving some energy and maybe protecting her knee a little bit. But I think she got a good feeling yesterday already and she’s ready for tomorrow — to attack it,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “It’s a long time ago that she was racing and everyone is excited for her because she is the big star of (recent) years and everyone is happy to see her back on the slope.”
Some have taken to referring to this spot as “Lake Lindsey” in recognition of her dominance: 14 of her 59 World Cup race wins came at this picturesque resort in the Canadian Rockies, including three-victory sweeps in 2011 and 2012.
“She’s tough. Am I surprised that she’s back out here? No. And do I want her back here? Yeah,” said U.S. teammate Leanne Smith, who was 20th Thursday.
“Anything’s realistic for her, clearly,” Smith added. “I think she’s been so talented on this hill for years and years and she knows what to do to win.”
That’s part of why Vonn figures it’s “a perfect place” to return to action.
“It’s a place I’ve felt comfortable on and I’m confident here,” she said.
Vonn had hoped to race last week at Beaver Creek, Colo., not far from her home in Vail, but her setback from a crash on Nov. 19 scrapped those plans.
She told the AP last weekend that she needs another operation on her right knee but is trying to put it off as long as possible to ski at the Winter Games, which begin in about two months.
“I was definitely nervous in the starting gate yesterday,” Vonn said Thursday, referring to her training run. “It’s so familiar, yet foreign, because I just haven’t been racing, and I don’t have that adrenaline. And so that feeling was different. But now that I got that first run done with, I feel much better.”