KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Lindsey Vonn usually likes to clinch her titles with victories. So while she was pleased to secure her fifth consecutive World Cup downhill crown Saturday, she was also upset she didn’t win the race because of what she said was a bad equipment choice.
Instead, German rival and friend Maria Hoefl-Riesch won the official downhill test on the 2014 Sochi Olympics course, Elizabeth Goergl of Austria finished second and Vonn settled for third.
“I’ve gone on the same race skis all season and we decided to go on a different pair today and I think maybe that was the wrong choice,” Vonn said. “I think my normal race boards are probably a little bit faster. But it’s already passed, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Vonn is in position to clinch another title in Sunday’s super-combined, but she’ll have to wait two years for another downhill here — when she’ll be defending her gold medal won at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
“We know that she can win this downhill. She’s proven it in the training runs,” U.S. head coach Alex Hoedlmoser said. “But it shows us that everything has to come together on race day. The performance of the athlete and the equipment — everything needs to be perfect in order to win.”
Still, Vonn now holds an unassailable 231-point lead over Hoefl-Riesch in the downhill standings with two races remaining in the discipline this season and wins worth 100 points each.
“Downhill is my favorite event and it’s always nice to wrap up a title before the end of the season, before the last races,” Vonn said. “It puts a little less pressure on me.”
Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell holds the record for World Cup downhill titles with seven, and also won five in a row from 1971-75.
“Annemarie Moser-Proell is still at the pinnacle of the sport, so I have a ways to go before that, so I’m just going to try to keep winning,” Vonn said.
Vonn has an even bigger lead in the overall standings, where she is 448 points ahead of Slovenia’s Tina Maze and 486 points in front of Hoefl-Riesch, who ended Vonn’s run of three consecutive overall titles last season.
The start of the race was delayed by 15 minutes as organizers cleared overnight snowfall off the course. After several more mid-race delays due to clouds limiting visibility, the end of the race was interrupted and the final 15 starters — the lowest in the rankings, including all four Russians — did not get a chance to compete.
Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein finished fourth, Marion Rolland of France was fifth and Julia Mancuso of the United States was sixth.
Also, Stacey Cook finished ninth and Alice McKennis was 10th as the U.S. Ski Team placed four racers in the top 10 for its best women’s results since a giant slalom in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, in March, 1985.
“It’s just cool to be where the Olympics are — it adds extra energy,” McKennis said.
Nadja Kamer of Switzerland and Lotte Smiseth Sejersted of Norway crashed, although both appeared to avoid serious injury.
Like for the men’s races last week, the stands were only half full, although those that were in attendance were enthusiastic, singing and cheering on each finisher.
Vonn started after a TV break and executed well on the upper portion of the course but lost some time on the bottom, and her lead only lasted slightly more than a minute because Hoefl-Riesch skied next and was faster at each checkpoint.
“I may have been a little cautious on the top, because the coaches were saying outside the track was really soft, so I tried to stay a little bit above the line but I think maybe that wasn’t the fastest line,” Vonn said.
Upon seeing her result, Hoefl-Riesch dropped down on her back to the snow and pumped her arms and kicked her feet to celebrate. A bit later, Goergl knocked Vonn down to third.
Hoefl-Riesch also had a win in the test event for the 2010 Vancouver Games.
“It’s really important,” the German said. “In Whistler, two years before the Olympics I won the super-combined and I (did well) in the downhill and I won two gold medals two years later. But it’s never a guarantee, it’s just good to know you can be fast on a special track where a big event takes place.”