Lindsey Vonn set to race at PyeongChang Olympic venue, live in primetime

AP
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Lindsey Vonn says this weekend’s World Cup races at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea aren’t so much about winning as they are about gaining confidence.

“My goal is just to try and get as much experience on the track as possible, to get a good feeling on it and really analyze it, remember it for next year,” Vonn said Thursday. “The pressure will come next year, not so much this year.”

Nevertheless, Vonn posted the fastest time in training in Jeongseon on Thursday, .17 ahead of the top downhiller this season, Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia.

The women’s field is set for one more training run before a World Cup downhill race on Friday at 9 p.m. ET (live on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

They will race again in a super-G on Saturday (also 9 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

The World Cup stop doubles as a 2018 Olympic test event.

It’s a rare chance to watch Vonn live in primetime in the U.S. Most World Cup races are held in Europe in the late morning or early afternoon, making for early wake-ups for American viewers.

South Korea is 14 hours ahead of New York.

Vonn arrived in South Korea on Tuesday and said at the airport that she was 70 percent fit and getting better, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Vonn, who won 2010 Olympic downhill gold but missed the 2014 Olympics due to crash-related injuries, is once again fighting neck whiplash from a race crash last Saturday. And food poisoning from earlier that week.

She returned to racing in January after suffering three knee fractures in a Feb. 27, 2016, race crash and breaking her right upper arm in a Nov. 10 training crash.

Vonn is also fighting age. She turns 33 in October. The oldest female Olympic Alpine skiing medalist ever was 32 years old.

“Most females retire before 33, so, yeah, I’m pretty sure PyeongChang will be my last Olympics,” Vonn said.

Vonn has three goals left in her career. The biggest is to break the record for World Cup wins of 86 held by retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark. She is at 77 wins.

A year ago, it looked as if Vonn could break Stenmark’s record before the 2018 Olympics. But those crashes and injuries limited her to one victory since Feb. 6, 2016 after averaging 8.5 wins per season the last two years.

“I’m not sure how many World Cups I’ll have won before the Olympics, but hopefully more than 77,” Vonn joked Thursday.

As for the Olympics, Vonn said in previous interviews that she wanted to reclaim the Olympic downhill title in PyeongChang. She was more modest on Thursday.

“I hope to win a medal, hopefully one or two, one would be great,” said Vonn, whose third goal is to race against men at some point after the 2018 Olympics. “My main focus before PyeongChang is to stay healthy.”

In 2008, Vonn finished second in the downhill at the 2010 Olympic test event in Whistler, B.C., missing the victory by one-hundredth of a second.

No matter, Vonn broke out that season by bagging six wins, her first of four World Cup overall titles and the status as biggest American star going into Vancouver Winter Games.

Two years later, Vonn won the Olympic downhill by more than a half-second over Julia Mancuso, who is also in Jeongseon this week and may race for the first time since March 2015.

Vonn has company in this Olympic cycle in the form of Sochi slalom gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin, who is poised to win this season’s World Cup overall title as world’s best all-around skier. She would be the first American to claim the crown since Vonn.

Though Shiffrin has victories this season in slalom, giant slalom and super combined, she is not expected to race in the downhill and super-G on Friday and Saturday. Shiffrin planned to fly back to the U.S. early to prep for next weekend’s World Cup giant slalom and slalom in Squaw Valley, Calif.

So the focus is again on Vonn, who on Thursday was once again the fastest on an Olympic track, albeit in training.

“It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good first training run,” she said. “It’s not necessarily whether I win these test events or not, so much as how confident I am on the track.”

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