BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Standing in the start gate, Lindsey Vonn experienced something she typically doesn’t — pressure.
And lots of it.
She knew that down below her hometown fans were packed tightly into the stands, hoping to celebrate her first World Cup win on a U.S. slope. She realized that some of the local kids had even been excused from school to take it all in.
Vonn didn’t want to disappoint.
So she charged down the demanding super-G course on Wednesday, holding little back despite hardly ever running this hill before. The nerves faded with every turn she made.
Upon crossing the finish line and seeing her time, Vonn pumped her ski poles in jubilation. This was a winning run she’ll cherish forever.
Vonn finished in 1 minute, 10.68 seconds, holding off Fabienne Suter of Switzerland by 0.37 seconds. Anna Fenninger of Austria was third.
“I still don’t believe it, really,” said Vonn, who’s from nearby Vail. “Getting a chance to win at home, with a home crowd here, it’s just more than I could’ve expected.”
Usually reserved for the men, the challenging Birds of Prey course hosted its first women’s race and Vonn successfully conquered it like so many other hills before. She’s now won an American-record four straight Alpine races.
Vonn has been so focused on the slopes even as she’s going through a divorce away from it.
“With the nerves I had, I was surprised I was able to make it down,” Vonn said. “I know now that if I put my mind to it, I can do anything. This is just going to give me more confidence for the future. I know I can handle any situation.”
The 27-year-old Vonn had plenty of support Wednesday as fans rang cow bells, blew on horns and held signs aloft that read, “Shred it, Lindsey” and “Go, Lindsey!” It’s not often the women’s World Cup circuit is this close to Vail. But a lack of snow in Val d’Isere, France, forced the International Ski Federation to move the super-G to this venue.
Instantly, that brought jitters for Vonn. For a week, the nerves have been slowly building. She had so many family and friends in the stands that she didn’t want to let them down.
“In the start, I was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been,” Vonn said. “It wasn’t my best run. I almost went off course a couple of times, but I was able to charge on the bottom and make up some time.”
While Vonn’s 46th World Cup win moved her into a tie with Austria’s Renate Goetschl for third on the career list, she will remember this victory more for finally breaking through in Colorado.
“It’s been an amazing day,” she said.
Vonn has been skiing so well of late that her rivals are trying to find a way to somehow keep up.
“She’s really, really on it,” said Julia Mancuso, who finished eighth, 1.48 seconds behind. “She doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
Suter had a solid run on a course she didn’t know that much about, picking up confidence as she went along.
“It was a little bit difficult for us, because we know it’s a men’s slope,” Suter said. “But I really enjoyed the run. It’s a nice hill for us.”
One that Vonn would like to lobby to have added to the already full slate of races. For Vonn, there’s nothing better than getting a good night’s sleep in her own home before a big race.
“From everyone I’ve talked to, they’re extremely excited about being able to race here. Everyone loved the trail,” Vonn said. “They thought it was a great, great World Cup race. I’m hoping FIS sees that and maybe can add that to the World Cup schedule in the future.”
Before stepping on the top step of the podium at the post-race ceremony, Vonn dropped to a knee with her skis in her hand and struck a prayer pose. She was simply joining the “Tebowing” craze.
Out of respect for Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, though, she asked his brother, who was at the race, if it would be disrespectful.
Vonn was given the green light.
“I said that if I won in Colorado, or at home, that I would do it,” said Vonn, who befriended Tim Tebow at a charity golf tournament over the offseason. “Go Broncos. I did it. Got to represent.”
These days, nothing slows Vonn down — not even an unfamiliar course. The only time she’s ever skied this hill was when she side-slipped the course during the 1999 championships as a teenager.
The course was tamed down a little bit for the women’s race as the skiers went around the famed Golden Eagle jump. Vonn was bummed when she heard about the course switch, but quickly shrugged it off.
Just like her turmoil away from the slopes.
There were those who wondered how Vonn would do without her husband, Thomas Vonn, serving as an adviser and personal coach. But a network of family, friends, coaches and teammates has stepped in and supported her through a difficult time.
Being on the hill has become her escape, the one place where she can tune everything out and concentrate on what she does best — ski fast.
In Lake Louise last weekend, Vonn cleaned up, winning two downhill races and a super-G.
She carried that confidence over to Colorado.
“I wanted to win at home so badly,” Vonn said. “There are so many reasons why today is so special.”
To say thanks to her fan base, Vonn signed autographs for a long line of kids after the race.
“I’m going to sign as many jackets and helmets as it takes to make sure no one gets in trouble for missing school,” Vonn said.