Lindsey Vonn injury return: American set for comeback race in Italy
Nearly two months after she first planned, Lindsey Vonn will begin her final World Cup season in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
The American suffered a training crash ahead of her favourite event at Lake Louise in November, and has been working her way back to full fitness.
She was originally due to compete in St Anton last weekend (12 January) but that race was rescheduled due to weather conditions.
But, as it turns out, Cortina d'Ampezzo — host city of the 1956 Olympic Winter Games — is pretty special to the 2010 Olympic champion, and she's looking forward to returning.
Memories of Cortina
Vonn, then aged 19, finished third in a World Cup downhill at Cortina in January 2004. It was her first senior podium.
"I remember calling my dad and crying on the phone saying that I finally made it," the 34-year-old recalled ahead of this weekend's event. "That was kind of the first time that I felt like I really belonged on the World Cup."
The Italian resort was also the site of another of Vonn's great achievements.
"The other specific memory is obviously breaking the win record." The two-time world champion surpassed Annemarie Moser-Proll as the most successful woman World Cup skier with her 63rd win in 2016.
''I love Cortina and I think everybody here knows that. If there's a place, minus Lake Louise, that I could make a return I think Cortina would probably be number one on my list.''
On Thursday, the American took part only in the first downhill training session on the Olympia delle Tofane course.
Facing foggy conditions, she skied conservatively, finishing 10th, 0.76 seconds behind leader Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway.
"I was really happy to be back in the starting gate. I was a little bit nervous, a couple more butterflies than normal" the most successful woman skier said to reporters.
Despite a shaky landing after the final jump, she was happy with her performance:
"I didn't take any risks. I was a little bit round and conservative, but I skied cleanly and for the most part executed the line the way I wanted to. The last jump is a little bit of a kicker."
"I am 100 per cent strong"
Four-time overall World Cup winner Vonn has not had much time on the slopes recently, preferring to step up her recovery in the gym.
But she remains confident in her ability to score the right results this season.
"I think given the lack of preparation, I still feel really good."
"I've only skied eight days since I crashed. So, not a ton of preparation, but I've been doing this a couple of years.
"It's not really the skiing that I need, it's just being healthy and strong. Maybe I'm not 100 per cent healthy, but I am 100 per cent strong."
However, one person Vonn won't be facing in her comeback race is her teammate Mikaela Shiffrin, who is sitting out the two downhill events this weekend as she attempts to juggle her schedule.
Chasing Ingemar Stenmark
Vonn currently has 82 career victories on tour, just four away from tying the all-time record set by Ingemar Stenmark.
And there's no doubt that she's gunning for Stenmark.
"I'm going for wins and I don't really care what happens, I'm just going to enjoy the moment. I'm not going to over-analyse."
"If I break the record, I will be very happy; if I don't, I don't."
And the ideal season?
"Surviving this season healthy and with five wins, maybe a World Championship medal, that would be my dream season.
"But yeah, I don't know. We'll see. I'm going to give it my best shot.''