LAKE LOUISE, Alberta — After a fifth-place finish in a World Cup super-G, her third race in three days, Lindsey Vonn used six simple words to sum up where things stand in her comeback from major knee surgery.
“I know,” Vonn said, “I can win again.”
She also had this to say after coming within a second of winner Lara Gut of Switzerland on Sunday: “I’m ready for Sochi.”
The 2014 Winter Games are less than two full months away, and Vonn said she might only race one or two times before then.
“I know that I’m skiing well,” said Vonn, the 2010 Olympic downhill gold medalist and a four-time overall World Cup champion. “So I know that I don’t need to push myself and try to push the limits of my knee to race as many as races as I can.”
Until this weekend, the 29-year-old American had not competed since a high-speed crash at the world championships last February ripped two ligaments in her right knee and broke a bone in that leg. Working her way back from that, Vonn had a setback less than three weeks ago, partially re-tearing her reconstructed right ACL.
“She had a trauma about a month ago, so it’s very impressive that she’s doing it,” said U.S. teammate Leanne Smith, who was sixth Sunday. “Every one of her teammates are her biggest fans, I would say. We’re happy to have her back.”
Vonn’s first race in 10 months was Friday’s downhill, and she was — not surprisingly — rusty and a tad nervous, and wound up 40th, ending a seven-race winning streak at a resort in the Canadian Rockies nicknamed “Lake Lindsey.”
In Saturday’s downhill, Vonn was 11th.
The “very good progression,” as U.S. Ski Team women’s speed coach Chip White put it, continued Sunday with Vonn’s best showing yet.
She declared herself pleased with her mental and physical improvement over these past few days.
“My run was pretty good. I was pushing the line really hard and I think I went a little bit too straight in some sections. But that’s a good mistake to make — pushing the limits and trying to go straighter,” Vonn said after finishing in 1 minute, 23.71 seconds. “That’s far from where I was two days ago. So I think it was a huge step in the right direction. I think it was a perfect way to end the weekend.”
Gut was timed in 1:22.86, edging Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein by three-hundredths of a second to reclaim the lead in the overall World Cup standings with her fourth victory of the young season. She’s won half of the races so far.
Anna Fenninger of Austria was third in 1:23.19. Weirather and Fenninger also finished 2-3 in Saturday’s downhill.
Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who won both Lake Louise downhills to temporarily take the overall lead from Gut, made a mistake on the hill’s lower section Sunday and was 19th.
Gut was 10th Friday, and 13th Saturday, and said: “I had two pretty hard days. But today, I knew how to ski.”
Vonn, of course, knows how to ski rather well, to say the least. What she’s needed to do of late is figure out how to do it properly with, as she joked Friday, “a little bit of ACL left.”
Skiing with a brace on, Vonn felt her right knee was stable and came through what amounted to a 72-hour test in good shape.
Now she will huddle with her coaches and try to decide where and exactly how often to get in a starting hut ahead of the Olympics.
“I do need a couple more starts,” Vonn said. “I want to make sure that I get on the podium at least once, if not win, before ... Sochi. For me, mentally, I really want to have that in my back pocket.”