Lindsey Vonn completes hat trick at Lake Louise
Lindsey Vonn is in a class by herself in women's World Cup skiing at Lake Louise.
After winning both downhills, Vonn capped a sweep with a victory in Sunday's super-G
The American ski star scored a hat trick at the Alberta resort for the second straight year after winning all three races in 2011.
Vonn brought her career wins at Lake Louise to 14.
Is that enough to prompt the world governing body of skiing to re-consider Vonn's request to race the men's World Cup there? Vonn would like to think so.
"It's not like I'm getting 20th every day and saying I want to race the men," Vonn said. "I try to let my skiing speak for itself.
"I think this weekend was the next step for me and a testament to why I want to race with the men."
The U.S. women's team had a banner weekend in the season-opening speed events. Julia Mancuso was second in Sunday's super-G after Stacey Cook was runner-up to Vonn in both downhills.
Anna Fenninger of Austria was third Sunday. Larisa Yurkiw of Owen Sound, Ont., was the top Canadian in 25th.
Focused on winning
Vonn felt pressure to win at Lake Louise this year. In October, the defending overall World Cup champion asked FIS to allow her to compete the men's World Cup on the same mountain. FIS denied her request.
Vonn arrived in Alberta not feeling her best. The lingering affects from a stomach ailment that hospitalized her for two nights in November drained her energy.
She finished 21st in a giant slalom in Aspen, Colo., prior to her arrival in Lake Louise. Tina Maze of Slovenia jumped into the lead in the overall standings with a pair of giant slalom victories to start the season.
Vonn felt uncertain about how she would perform, but Lake Louise was once again "Lake Lindsey."
"I was in a pretty rough place sitting in a hospital bed and everyone is training and skiing fast and Tina is winning everything and, 'Great. How am I supposed to get up and keep going? I have no training, I have no energy,"' she recalled. "I've never quite dealt with something like that before. I didn't know what was going to happen.
"I came up here trying to have a clean slate, giving myself every chance to do well and it turned around. This really sets me up well for the rest of the season. This is exactly the weekend I needed."
Vonn rolled her eyes at Internet rumours that her hospitalization and stomach pains were due to pregnancy.
"Oh yeah. It's awesome," she said sarcastically. "Do I look pregnant? Maybe I had too much breakfast. People write crap all the time and I have to take it in stride."
It's not just her wins, but her margin of victory at Lake Louise that sets her apart.
Vonn beat the field in Friday's season-opening downhill by 1.73 seconds. The difference between second and third that day was one hundredth of a second.
Despite a major slip halfway down the course, the 28-year-old from Burnsville, Minn., won again Saturday by .52 seconds. Vonn completed her sweep Sunday skiing .42 seconds clear of the field.
"Honestly, it doesn't matter if I won by one tenth or one second," she said. "I think it definitely validates my cause a little bit more by winning by a larger margin, but it's just a win and that's all that matters to me."
With her super-G win back in 2010, Vonn is the first woman to string together seven straight wins at one venue. The previous record was six by Sweden's Anja Paerson in Maribor, Germany.
Alpine Canada president Max Gartner has been supportive of Vonn's bid to race the men at Lake Louise.
"She definitely made a statement this weekend by dominating the women's circuit again and saying she's ready to take that next challenge," Gartner said. "We are certainly there to support it if it goes that way.
"I think at the moment on this course when she has a normal run without any major, major mistakes, I don't think anybody can beat her."
Apples and oranges
Extrapolating how Vonn would fare against the men at Lake Louise based on her times and speed in the women's races is problematic.
The courses for the men and women at Lake Louise were virtually identical this year. There are years, depending on conditions, when the women's start hut is lower.
Vonn's top speed in the downhill of 135.67 kilometres per hour matched the fastest posted by Canada's Jan Hudec in the men's downhill. Hudec finished 17th in that race.
Vonn says that's an apples-and-oranges comparison. A large dump of snow prior to the men's races made for a slower course for them. The track hardened and was faster for the women.
"I would really love to say you can directly compare it, but you can't," Vonn said. "The course this year is more similar than I think it has been in the past years, but at the same time, they totally re-groom the hill, the snow conditions were different. You just can't compare it.
"I don't know exactly where I'd stack up, but that's kind of the whole point, to see where I stand and see how much farther I can push my skiing because the men, they're skiing is the best in the world hands down. That's where I want to get my skiing to be."
With her 56th career World Cup victory, Vonn moved past Switzerland's Vreni Schneider into second all-time. Vonn needs six more to match the 62 of Annamarie Moser-Proell of Austria as the winningest skier in women's World Cup history.
The next women's World Cup is in St. Mortiz, Switzerland, starting next Friday.
"Those kinds of records are really hard for me to think about because they mean so much to me," Vonn said. "Annamarie is a legend. She's held that record for so many years and it's been thought to be untouchable.
"I don't picture myself in the same league as her so to be this close and still feel like I have a few more years of racing left in me is much more than I ever anticipated."
Yurkiw was the lone Canadian in the downhills at Lake Louise and she finished outside the top 30 in both.
She was joined in the super-G by Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., who was 28th. Marie-Pier Prefontaine of Saint-Saveur, Que., did not finish.
Yurkiw, 24, had her first top-10 result before a catastrophic knee injury in 2009 sidelined her for two years. She is trying to work her way back into the world's elite.
"We have a very strong slalom team now but we are thin on the speed side," Gartner said. "Larisa is coming back and I think she has a chance to be coming into the top 15 soon.
"Behind that, we're trying to build a new program, but we're trying to be a little bit patient. The young athletes, we don't want to throw to the wolves and throw them into the downhill when they're not ready for it."