Lindsey Vonn is one win from matching the all-time women’s World Cup record after recording her 61st victory in Val d’Isere, France, on Saturday.
Vonn, in her fourth race this year coming off knee surgery, captured a downhill by .19 of a second over Austrian Elisabeth Goergl and German Viktoria Rebensburg.
“It was a pretty wild ride,” Vonn said. “I made some mistakes, but I was charging and skiing aggressively.”
She received a calf as a prize, nine years after she won a cow that she named Olympe with her first Val d’Isere downhill victory.
“It’s even better because I get a cow,” said Vonn, who named it Winnie. “I get a little baby cow, one month old.”
Vonn can tie the women’s all-time wins leader, retired Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell, with a victory in Sunday’s super-G in Val d’Isere. That will be Vonn’s last race before the new year.
“I have such great memories from Val d’Isere, now adding another great memory today,” Vonn said. “Hopefully, tomorrow is another Christmas present.”
Her comeback from major knee surgeries the previous two seasons has been remarkable. Vonn’s last race in her aborted comeback last season was in Val d’Isere on Dec. 21, when her weak right knee gave out and she was unable to finish — with boyfriend Tiger Woods watching from the finish area. She had further surgery in January and missed the Sochi Olympics.
“Today was a really good test,” Vonn said. “I haven’t had a lot of mistakes in the races yet, where I really have to put every bit of weight on my knee. Today, I definitely had to do that, and it was perfect.”
Vonn finished eighth in her first race back in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Dec. 5, then won the next day and finished second the day after that.
“Lake Louise is a place where I’ve won so many times that sometimes people automatically assume that I’m going to win there,” Vonn said. “[Saturday was] more for everyone else that they understand that I’m back to what I used to be.”
She’s now third in the World Cup overall standings, though well behind Slovenia’s Tina Maze. Vonn is a four-time World Cup overall champion and the 2010 Olympic downhill gold medalist.
“I feel like I did a few years ago, when I could make mistakes and still win,” Vonn said.
The relationship between Vonn and the legend she’s chasing will be a topic of reporting going into 2015. They have met a few times — Moser-Proell is 61 years old; Vonn is 30 — and sat down for a 25-minute conversation in German before this season. Moser-Proell told Vonn she hoped the American would break her record, according to this translation.
“I don’t know her very well,” Vonn said two weeks ago. “She’s a very nice woman, very humble and down to Earth.”
Moser-Proell reached 62 wins in 174 career World Cup starts (almost half Vonn’s current total of starts), retiring after the 1980 Olympic season and starting a family. She won her only Olympic gold medal in Lake Placid and was just shy of 27 years old in her last World Cup race.
Not only did Moser-Proell retire at an early age, she also retired twice. Her first leave was at age 22 in 1975, when she married a ski salesman, nursed her dying father and missed the 1975-76 season, including the Innsbruck Olympics. She returned to racing the following season.
“The less I talk about it,” Vonn said of the record, “the faster I get there.”
Vonn also said she still hopes to race against men, a bid that was denied by the International Ski Federation in November 2012, before her first major knee injury in February 2013.
“In places where it makes sense, like Lake Louise, where I’ve had a lot of success and I feel very confident there, I would definitely like to race with the men still,” she said, “but right now, my form isn’t quite good enough. I need more training and more competitions in order to really be confident in saying I want to race with the men.”