Lindsey Vonn made major strides in less than 24 hours between her first two races since major knee surgery.
The Olympic downhill champion finished 11th in a downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta, on Saturday afternoon.
On Friday, Vonn was 40th in another Lake Louise downhill, her first race since blowing out her right knee at the World Championships in February.
On Nov. 19, she partially tore the ACL in the same knee in a training crash.
On Saturday, German Maria Hoefl-Riesch won in 1 minute, 55.09 seconds. Hoefl-Riesch also won Friday’s downhill. Vonn was 3.19 seconds behind Hoefl-Riesch on Friday and 1.26 seconds behind her Saturday.
Vonn pumped her fist after finishing.
“That was much better. A lot more like it,” Vonn said, according to The Associated Press, in below-zero temperatures. “I’m just really happy with the improvements that I made from yesterday. And just in general, my whole body language was different. I was more aggressive and just more confident and comfortable.”
Vonn decided to race this weekend following a training run Wednesday. She said her right knee felt “stable,” though she skipped an opportunity at taking another training run Thursday. She said she would race with a knee brace.
“[Friday], it felt rusty,” Vonn said. “Just hadn’t done it in so long. I was too nervous.
“And today, it was much more like myself. I still made mistakes and it wasn’t my best skiing, but it’s a long way from where I was yesterday. Hopefully I can continue to improve.”
She’s skiing at a course nicknamed “Lake Lindsey” for her overwhelming success there. She had won the last seven World Cup races at Lake Louise before this weekend. She didn’t finish lower than second at a Lake Louise race from 2009 through 2012.
“At least you can ski,” Hoefl-Riesch, the 2011 World Cup overall champion, told Vonn after Saturday’s race, according to the AP. “Maybe it gets better.”
Vonn is expected to race in a super-G on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET in Lake Louise. Universal Sports will have coverage.
“Just need to continue improving and continue taking steps every day. It doesn’t take me long. I’m a fast learner,” Vonn said, according to the AP. “I need a couple of tries to kind of get the butterflies out and get the nerves to calm down. Now I feel like I’m in a really good place.”
Overall, the U.S. women’s speed team improved over its dismal early-season results.
Stacey Cook, who was fourth in last season’s World Cup downhill standings, was right behind Vonn in 12th. That’s Cook’s best finish this season.
Leanne Smith was 17th after taking 49th on Friday. Julia Mancuso improved five spots from 26th to 21st.
Lake Louise Downhill
1. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:55.09
2. Tina Weirather (LIE) 1:55.43
3. Anna Fenninger (AUT) 1:55.56
4. Maria Kaufmann-Abderhalden (SUI) 1:55.92
5. Elena Fanchini (ITA) 1:55.93
6. Tina Maze (SLO) 1:56.00
7. Comelia Huetter (AUT) 1:56.08
8. Kajsa Kling (SWE) 1:56.09
9. Dominique Gisin (SUI) 1:56.13
10. Elisabeth Goergl (AUT) 1:56.17
11. Lindsey Vonn (USA) 1:56.35
12. Stacey Cook (USA) 1:56.47
17. Leanne Smith (USA) 1:56.77
21. Julia Mancuso (USA) 1:56.86
31. Jacqueline Wiles (USA) 1:57.47
46. Julia Ford (USA) 1:58.43
50. Laurenne Ross (USA) 1:59.12
Ligety fifth in Beaver Creek super-G