VAL D’ISERE, France – With her father proudly watching from the bottom of the slope, Lindsey Vonn sped to an emotional win in a World Cup super-G race on Saturday.
It was her first win of a difficult season so far, one marred by a crash and a recent back injury, and it brought both of them to tears.
Alan Kildow, wearing a white ski hat with the name of the French resort written on it, was tearful as his daughter won 12 years after clinching a downhill win here – the third win of the record 78 she cherishes.
The 33-year-old American ski star has seven wins and 10 podiums at Val d’Isere, but her father missed the others.
“He’s never been to Val d’Isere,” Vonn said. “It was really cute when he was crying at the finish.”
After Vonn finished 12th in downhill at Lake Louise in early December, a day after crashing in the season-opening downhill, she turned to him for moral support.
“I asked my dad if he could come to some races with me. My dad’s always the one who says, ‘Never, never give up.’ He loves Winston Churchill,” Vonn said. “It’s nice to be able to share these moments with my dad as I approach the end of my career. It’s also time to appreciate things more, also with the passing of my grandpa.”
Then it was Vonn’s turn to cry as she struggled to finish her sentence.
“So, I feel really a lot closer to him when we’re together,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion. “When I’m able to ski well, I feel like I do it for him as well.”
On an Oreiller-Killy course shortened due to heavy snowfall in the past two days, the four-time World Cup winner clocked 1 minute, 4.86 seconds. Italian Sofia Goggia placed second in 1:05.17 – her 14th World Cup podium – and Norwegian Ragnhild Mowinckel was third in 1:05.25.
It was Vonn’s first win since a downhill at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in January, and a welcome relief.
Last Saturday, she jarred her back in a super-G at St. Moritz in Switzerland and finished in 24th place. In clear pain, she pulled out of the next day’s scheduled super-G. That race was canceled and she went to get some treatment.
“My back’s much better. I went to Austria and got some therapy, saw a doctor and it definitely helped a lot,” Vonn said. “The physical issues that I’ve had made it hard to have confidence in my body, so it was mentally challenging. That’s been the biggest thing in the last few weeks – keep going, keep fighting, keep trying, keep picking yourself back up, especially after the crash in Lake Louise.”
Recently, Vonn has been under the media spotlight’s glare for other reasons.
She told CNN in an interview earlier this month she would “absolutely not” visit the White House if the United States Olympic team gets a traditional post-games invitation.
Vonn has her sights set on winning another Olympic gold medal, when the Pyeongchang Olympics are held in South Korea from Feb. 9-25.
“The biggest thing is just getting the confidence going for February, that’s my biggest goal,” said Vonn, who won gold in downhill and bronze in super-G at the 2010 Vancouver Games. “Confidence gives me a lot of peace of mind going into the next months of speed races.”
It was also a special day for Mowinckel, who earned her first career podium. Her previous best was fourth in a giant slalom at Semmering, Austria last December.
“It’s weird because I had a good feeling this morning,” Mowinckel said. “In Semmering it was snowing like cats and dogs and today the conditions were difficult.”
She had no idea about podium protocol, so asked Vonn and Goggia for help.
“You never know what to expect. What do I do, where do I go now?” Mowinckel said. “They were just teaching me what to do, how to hold stuff. I had no idea.”
Vonn started sixth and gained significant time through the middle and bottom sections, almost losing balance near the end.
Her joy was evident as she hugged U.S. teammate Laurenne Ross and, moments later, her father.
There could be more hugs after Sunday’s super-G.