Two serious knee surgeries, fog, soft snow, and mounting pressure to match one of skiing’s most hallowed records.
Nothing seems to stop Lindsey Vonn.
The American fought through difficult conditions to win a demanding downhill Sunday and match Annemarie Moser-Proell’s 35-year-old record of 62 World Cup wins, capping a comeback from injuries that kept her out of last year’s Sochi Olympics.
“The last two years have been pretty tough and a lot of people counted me out and thought I would never reach this record,” Vonn said. “A lot of people thought that I would never win again. I never stopped believing in myself and I think I proved everyone wrong.”
Vonn clocked a time of 1 minute, 39.61 seconds down the Olympia delle Tofane course to finish 0.32 ahead of Elisabeth Goergl of Austria.
“It was just a tough day out there. The snow was a little bit soft but I did the best that I could,” Vonn said. “I fought really hard and to have a 62nd win with my whole family here pretty much — I’m missing some brothers and sisters — it just feels amazing and it’s such a special day.”
Vonn’s dad, mother, step dad, step mom and younger sister Laura attended the race. Family and members of Vonn’s coaching staff put on celebratory T-shirts that said, “Congratulations to our golden Lindsey! Awesome!”
Daniela Merighetti of Italy was third, 0.54 back.
Vonn can break Moser-Proell’s record in a super-G scheduled for Monday.
“I think 62 is more important to me,” Vonn said. “Now I feel like from here on out I’m already tied for No. 1. So I’m just going to try to continue to win races and I’m skiing for another three years so there’s a lot of racing left in me and I’ll just keep on doing my best.”
Moser-Proell, an Austrian great, established the record between 1970 and 1980.
Swedish standout Ingemar Stenmark holds the men’s record of 86 wins.
“I feel like everyone has been talking about (the record) so much and it’s a little bit frustrating because I just want to focus on the skiing,” Vonn said. “I felt it was just getting ahead of the actual skiing. I’m happy that the story is hopefully behind me now so I can just move forward and continue to do my best and hopefully get a lot more wins.”
Vonn was on track to smash the record two years ago before she crashed at the world championships and tore up her right knee, requiring serious surgery. She attempted to return for Sochi but re-injured her knee two months before the games and had to have surgery again.
“I’m trying to push the limits, always take tighter lines and ski like the men,” Vonn said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work and I crash. That’s part of my sport. But I don’t change anything. That’s my mentality — go big or go home.
“So having those ups and downs make the ups that more special,” Vonn added. “The last few wins have been so incredible.”
This was Vonn’s third win of the season — all in downhill — and the eighth of her career in Cortina.
And it was anything but straightforward.
As clouds moved over the middle of the course, the race was momentarily suspended after 12 skiers came down. And even when Vonn and the other favorites went, visibility varied over each section of the piste.
Vonn came down with the No. 20 bib and had a nervous wait when Goergl came down with No. 22 and was faster at the first two checkpoints. But Goergl couldn’t keep up with Vonn on the final turns.
“I wasn’t very fast on the top. I don’t really know what I did exactly. But I maintained my speed on the bottom and that’s where I won the race,” Vonn said.
Goergl, who swept gold in downhill and super-G at the 2011 world championships, wasn’t interested in discussing Vonn’s record.
“For me it’s more about the racing and the competition,” the Austrian said. “The statistics and all that stuff, I don’t really care.”
Vonn had a few bobbles at the start of her run but increased her lead over then-leader Merighetti at every checkpoint. At the finish, Vonn collapsed to the snow in a scene of relief, then used her ski poles to pick herself back up, flashed a big smile and received a hug from overall World Cup leader Tina Maze, who finished fifth.
The crowd of a few thousand fans in the finish area gave Vonn sporadic cheers, as most of them were rooting for Merighetti to hold the lead.