Lindsey Vonn is back.
Vonn won a World Cup downhill race in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Saturday, her second start since January knee surgery knocked her out of the Sochi Olympics.
“I’m finally feeling confident going fast again,” said Vonn, who hoped to make the podium but didn’t expect a victory. “I’m finally back to where I feel confident. I’m pushing the limits. I want more speed. I haven’t had that yet until today.”
Vonn dominated the field, leading the first U.S. sweep in World Cup history (men or women). She clocked 1 minute, 50.48 seconds. Stacey Cook was second, .49 behind. Julia Mancuso was third, .57 back.
Vonn’s margin of victory was greater than the margin separating second place from ninth place.
Vonn notched her 60th career World Cup win, moving within two of the women’s record held by retired Austrian Annemarie Moser-Pröll.
She screamed after seeing her leading time when she crossed the finish line, yelled “Yes!” repeatedly and dropped to the snow in delight.
The 2010 Olympic downhill champion finished eighth in a Lake Louise downhill Friday, her first race since Dec. 21, 2013.
“It’s just finding my rhythm and finding my confidence,” said Vonn, who won for the first time since Jan. 26, 2013. “Every day has gotten better here. Today, I went a little bit more aggressive than I did yesterday, took some more chances.”
She’s skiing at a venue nicknamed “Lake Lindsey.” She won seven straight World Cup races in Lake Louise from 2010 to 2012 and has 15 victories there overall.
“I definitely think that I shocked a few people,” Vonn said. “I don’t think really anyone expected me to win today. I could definitely see that on some of the girls’ faces.”
Vonn, whose best finish in three training runs earlier this week was eighth, will compete again in Lake Louise in a super-G on Sunday.
“I haven’t had much training,” Vonn said. “The three days of training here have been training for me.
“I’m not expecting this kind of result all the time just yet.”
The last nation to sweep a women’s World Cup podium was Austria in 2009.
Cook, a three-time Olympian, made her first World Cup podium since Dec. 1, 2012.
Mancuso, the most decorated U.S. Olympic female skier with four medals, made her first World Cup podium since March 3, 2013.
Vonn’s right knee problems began at the February 2013 World Championships, when she crashed in the super-G and required season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL, MCL and a fractured tibial plateau.
She injured the knee again in a training crash on Nov. 20, 2013. Vonn’s only three completed races last season were at Lake Louise, where she finished 40th, 11th and fifth last December.
Vonn, a four-time World Cup overall champion, aggravated the knee in her fourth World Cup race last season in Val d’Isere, France, on Dec. 21, 2013.
She underwent another knee surgery in January, ruling her out of the Sochi Olympics.
“I fought so hard to be back where I am, at the top of the podium,” Vonn said, according to Reuters. “It means the world to me, it’s just unbelievable. It’s like a dream day.”
Vonn skied with a right knee brace but said she has not restrictions. The knee doesn’t swell, she doesn’t ice it, and it doesn’t hurt.
Vonn’s goals for the rest of her career are clear. She wants to pass Moser-Proell for the women’s World Cup victories record.
Vonn has said she also has thought about the men’s record held by Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark, who won 86 races.
Vonn averaged 10 victories per season from 2009 through 2012. If she gets back on that pace and stays healthy, she would need to ski well into the 2016-17 World Cup season to pass Stenmark around age 32.
She also wants to ski at the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics. If she competes there and wins a medal, she is slated to become the oldest women’s Olympic Alpine skiing medalist of all time.
But first, she will celebrate with a glass of champagne with her teammates and her father in Lake Louise on Saturday. When she gets home to Colorado, she will enjoy ice cream with the brindle boxer she adopted in January, Leo, and watch Law & Order, which she appeared on in 2010.
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