ASPEN, Colo. — Lindsey Vonn is healthy enough to race in Aspen even if her heart may be farther up north.
Although weakened by a bad stomach bug, the four-time overall World Cup champion will compete in one of the two races this weekend. She will take part in the giant slalom Saturday and then skip the slalom Sunday to conserve energy.
Really, though, she’d rather be in Lake Louise, Alberta, at this moment competing against the men. Vonn recently requested to participate in a men’s downhill race, only to be rejected by the International Ski Federation.
“Unfortunately, FIS made the decision that a woman cannot race with the men,” Vonn said Friday night as she discussed her illness for the first time. “For me, the story is still ongoing. It’s not over yet. There’s still next year. I’m going to keep working hard to make my dream a reality.”
Vonn recently returned to training after missing time with an intestinal issue that landed her in the hospital. But doctors have at least kept it under control with antibiotics.
With each day, her strength is returning.
“I’m not going to lie — it was really bad. It was definitely the most pain I’ve been in, in my life,” said Vonn, who came down with the bug shortly after attending a ski team fundraiser in New York last month. “I’m not the kind of person who goes to the hospital.”
The Olympic downhill gold medalist spent two nights in the hospital with what she described on Facebook as “some infection in my tummy.” She returned to training last week in Vail and also squeezed in a downhill practice session at the U.S. Ski Team’s speed center at Copper Mountain.
Her stamina and energy, though, have been completely zapped by the virus. So much so that she has yet to even make it through a full giant slalom practice run without pulling off to the side out of breath.
“I’m not really sure what to expect, but I’m excited to be able to race in my home state in front of the home crowd,” she said. “Racing, to me, is the fun part. I’m not exactly expecting much from the results.”
This venue has been far from friendly to Vonn in recent seasons. She’s failed to finish a race five times on this course and didn’t qualify for a second run on another several occasions. Her best finish in Aspen is fourth place.
Not only that, but it was here, about a year ago, when Vonn announced that she and her husband of four years were divorcing. She then dominated the season with 12 wins, reclaiming the overall title from Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany by setting a new overall points record at 1,980.
Vonn could have possibly raced the slalom in Aspen as well, but doesn’t want to overdo it. Not now. Not with Lake Louise looming next weekend.
She typically dominates at that venue, which is why she wanted to try her luck against the men on that course. She figured her familiarity would give her equal footing. She’s surprised by the stubborn stance of skiing’s governing body.
“I honestly was expecting a more positive outcome than I got. It was an absolute no,”Vonn said. “That was tough. I still think there’s a possibility for this to happen. I’m still going to keep fighting for it.”
Any chance she might pick another course?
“That’s the thing: There’s no other course that men and women both run. Any other course, the men would have a huge advantage,” said Vonn, who still doesn’t have much of an appetite because of the illness. “I want to see where I stack up. Lake Louise is definitely in my wheel house.”
Earlier this month, Vonn skipped a slalom competition in Levi, Finland. But that had more to do with wanting to train more for Aspen than the illness.
“It’s tough, because I was in bed for over a week,” Vonn said. “As soon as I felt healthy enough, I started freeskiing and progressively worked into training.”
Her fellow skiers were pleased to see her on the slopes Friday. And Vonn definitely stood out, too, wearing a lime green jacket and purple ski pants. She skied two runs before calling it a day.
“I’m glad she’s back,” Tanja Poutiainen of Finland said after her morning training run. “We are a big family here. Everybody knows each other. We support each other, because we are not playing against each other like in (soccer) or ice hockey.”