Vonn concussion saga overshadows ski worlds
AP Sports Writer
GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany – As far as the U.S. Ski Team is concerned, these world championships will be remembered more for Lindsey Vonn’s concussion saga than for how it performed on the slopes.
Though Ted Ligety captured gold, and Julia Mancuso and Vonn earned silver, American skiers brought home less than half the hardware they won at the Vancouver Olympics last year.
“The whole Lindsey story was just pushed and blown up and there was a lot of attention going towards her,” said U.S. women’s head coach Alex Hoedlmoser. “It was definitely challenging, also for the other athletes because in interviews and so, they also were bothered with questions about Lindsey and that’s not why they are here.”
Having fallen and hit her head last week in training before worlds, Vonn kept the ski racing world in limbo with daily status reports on her mild concussion, which she repeatedly said left her “skiing in a fog,” with her body “one gate ahead of where” her mind was.
Clearly not in her normal dominant form, Vonn finished seventh in the super-G, pulled out after the downhill leg of the super-combined, and took silver behind Austria’s Elisabeth Goergl in the downhill before withdrawing completely from her final events, the giant slalom and slalom.
“It was tough for everybody on the team because we had big hopes in her,” Hoedlmoser said. “But if you look back, you got to make sure that your athletes are healthy and I think it was the right decision to pull out then, to get 100 percent back and to be ready to rock in the World Cup. She has some big goals there still and it’s very important that she is going to be 100 percent in order to defend her title.”
Mancuso took silver behind Goergl in the super-G and looked like the favorite for the downhill until warmer conditions rolled in and took away her advantage.
She finished sixth in the downhill and a disappointing 16th in the giant slalom, the event she won at the 2006 Turin Olympics.
“In general it’s been a really good championships,” Mancuso said. “Not everything always goes your way, so it’s kind of ‘Take what has gone my way,’ which is the super-G, so I’m excited about that. Now it’s just look forward to the rest of the season and continue having good results.”
Ligety confirmed his status as the circuit’s premier giant slalom skier with his first major championship victory since his surprise win in the combined at the Turin Games. Ligety won the opening three giant slalom races this season and leads the season-long World Cup standings in the discipline.
“Winning the Olympic gold medal was special because it’s an Olympic gold medal and that’s much bigger than world championships, but winning the world championships when you’re the favorite is a lot more difficult than being a surprise victor,” he said. “It’s pretty special to be able to handle that pressure and win.”
Bode Miller, meanwhile, appeared to fall back into his pre-Vancouver mode, when he went three consecutive major championships without a medal.
He filled his bag with a medal in each color in Vancouver, but failed to crack the top 10 in any of his four events here.
Miller lost one of his poles in the super-G, ran out of steam in the downhill, fell two gates into the slalom leg of the super-combined and went down on his side early in his opening giant slalom run – rendering his fastest second-leg meaningless.
“You got to take a hard look at your effort and what you did and see if there’s (things) you would have done differently even in hindsight, and in this case I really wouldn’t have changed anything about the championships,” Miller told The Associated Press. “I raced hard, I liked the choices we made about skis, I liked my intensity and my tactics, I just screwed up. Part of that’s me making mistakes and part of it is some of those variables that are unlucky.”
The standout skier of the championships was Italy’s Christof Innerhofer, who took gold in super-G, silver in super-combined and bronze in downhill.
“He’s one of the guys that has the ability to make up a lot of time in the turns,” Miller said. “He’s really comfortable, he’s really balanced and he skis real aggressive, so when he skis like that, when his skis are rolling OK, he’s absolutely a threat in any event he’s in.”
On the women’s side, Goergl’s sweep of the speed events came while Vonn was less than 100 percent and overall World Cup leader Maria Riesch had the flu.
“(Goergl) is definitely by far the best skier on this hill,” Vonn said. “She skied incredibly well in the super-G and the downhill portion of the super-combined. … She really put down some incredible runs and made me say, ‘Wow, that was impressive.”‘
Riesch, a Garmisch local, had to settle for two bronze medals – in super-G and downhill – failing to meet lofty expectations in her home town.
Austria won four of the five women’s races, with Anna Fenninger taking the super-combined – a race usually dominated by Vonn and Riesch – and Marlies Schild winning the slalom. The only non-Austrian winner was Tina Maze in the giant slalom, as she became the first Slovenian to win gold in Alpine skiing at an Olympics or worlds.
On the men’s side, Erik Guay matched Canadian teammate John Kucera’s gold medal from two years earlier in the downhill, Mancuso’s boyfriend Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway won the super-combined and Jean-Baptiste Grange of France took gold in slalom Sunday to wrap up the competition.
The World Cup resumes next weekend with men’s races in Bansko, Bulgaria; and women’s events in Are, Sweden. It is unclear whether Vonn, who trails Riesch by 156 points in the overall standings, will race.
AP Sports Writer Eric Willemsen contributed to this report.
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