Giovanni Auletta/Associated Press
Giovanni Auletta/Associated Press
ST. ANTON, Austria – Alice McKennis of the United States earned her first World Cup victory by winning a downhill Saturday, and Lindsey Vonn was sixth after returning from a nearly monthlong break.
McKennis had never finished in the top three before coming down the Karl Schranz course in 1 minute, 14.62 seconds to beat Daniela Merighetti of Italy by 0.07.
“I am overwhelmed, extremely happy and excited,” McKennis said. “It’s definitely a dream come true.”
Anna Fenninger of Austria was third, and overall World Cup leader Tina Maze of Slovenia finished fourth.
Wearing bib. No. 4, McKennis used the advantage of an early start on a course that was softened by fresh snow during the past two days.
“I felt pretty good, and I felt I had nailed it, but it’s hard running so early as you don’t know,” McKennis said. “It was pretty nerve-wrecking waiting for the next hour. I was just freaking out the whole time.”
Some racers, including fellow Americans Vonn, Julia Mancuso and Stacey Cook, clocked at least one faster split time. But no one matched McKennis’ strong finish.
Vonn, the defending overall champion who returned to the circuit after recovering from an intestinal illness, was 0.34 behind, while her American teammate Laurenne Ross was fifth, 0.32 off the lead.
“I am extremely happy for our whole team, Alice winning today, and Laurenne,” Vonn said. “The strength of our whole team has been fun to watch. It makes me happy to be part of such a great group of girls. The success we’re having this year is pretty incredible.”
After the top racers came down and she had all but secured the victory, the 23-year-old McKennis walked through the finish area looking at the stands, searching for her father Greg.
“He wasn’t really much of a racer, but he put a lot of work in getting me here,” said McKennis, who grew up at a ranch near Glenwood Springs (New Castle area).
“I wouldn’t be here without him, so a lot of credit to him. It’s great having him here.”
McKennis became the fifth American winner of a World Cup race this season after Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin, Steven Nyman and Ted Ligety, who took a giant slalom in Adelboden, Switzerland, just moments after McKennis won Saturday in Austria.
“It’s been so exciting, especially watching the men’s speed team get back up there,” McKennis said. “And obviously Ted winning the race today, that’s awesome. And Mikaela, she’s incredible at such a young age (17), pretty inspiring.
“We all push each other, we all want to be the best ... It’s been a goal for every single one of us to get on the podium, and we’ve almost done that with the speed team now.”
Vonn won two downhill races this season but failed to finish the third, in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where Lara Gut of Switzerland placed first. Days later, Vonn went back to the United States to get her physical strength back after her illness and returned for training on snow in Austria last week.
“I feel great. I am really happy to be back. I love the adrenaline at the start and going fast again. I really felt good,” Vonn said after the race. “These were definitely tough conditions. The snow was definitely not great, but the course workers did a great job on it. I almost didn’t think that it was possible to run today because there was just too much snow.”
Vonn and Cook, who finished 22nd, remained 1-2 in the downhill standings.
“I definitely made some mistakes. But in general I felt good, and I felt like my skiing was where it should be. I felt strong,” Vonn said. “Of course, it’s downhill so I am hoping to be on the podium, but considering the conditions I am extremely happy with this result. You make one mistake and you are easily in 20th or 30th place. So I think, all things considered, it was a real good performance.”
As snow at the top of the course was too soft, organizers decided to use the lower super-G start, shortening the initial 2.2-kilometer long downhill course by 436 meters.
“It was definitely a disadvantage to start later,” said Vonn, who started 17th. “The later numbers had a hard time except for Merighetti; she skied amazing. This was a great result for my first race back.”
A women’s super-G on the same course is scheduled for Sunday.