Lindsey Vonn returned to racing for the first time in 10 months this weekend, a three-race, 72-hour test for her surgically repaired right knee.
Each finish showed improvement: 40th, then 11th, then fifth.
U.S. & World
"The first day was getting that first race under your belt, which is always a big question mark," U.S. Ski Team women's speed coach Chip White said Sunday. "She got that, realized, 'Hey, I can do this.' The next day, she stepped it up a little bit. And then today, she's definitely in the hunt."
Most importantly, Vonn said her knee held up fine. Less than three weeks ago, the 29-year-old American partially re-tore one of two ligaments that were reconstructed last February.
"Skiing with not very much ACL left - it's pretty hard-core. So I give myself a little bit of credit," Vonn said with a smile after a World Cup super-G on Sunday. "But the fight's not over. I have a lot more to do, and I'm just going to keep working hard, and I'm not going to give up, and I'm going to be in Sochi, fighting for my medal."
Vonn won gold in downhill and bronze in the super-G at Vancouver in 2010.
Repeatedly over the past few days, Vonn said things such as "my focus is Sochi" or "my goal is definitely still to be as prepared as possible for Sochi."
On Sunday, she declared: "I'm ready for Sochi."
With the Winter Games less than two months away, here are five things to know about Alpine skiing:
'I KNOW I CAN WIN': Vonn was hardly concerned about her placings at Lake Louise, but seeing quick progress helped.
She called Sunday, when she was less than a second off the pace, "a huge step in the right direction."
"I have a lot of self-confidence now," Vonn said. "Every day, I got better and better. More aggressive. More confident. And I feel great."
Then she added the six words that meant the most of all: "I know I can win again."
VONN'S SCHEDULE: Vonn mentioned this week she might not race any World Cup giant slaloms this season. On Sunday, she said she might only race once or twice at all until the Olympics.
"I really have to look at the program with my coaches, and we're going to come up with a game plan. But I don't need to do a lot," she said, adding that she wants to "take the risk away from any long-term damage on my knee."
'GETTING BUFF': So what will Vonn do when away from the World Cup?
"I'm going to be getting buff," she said. "I lose weight throughout the season, and I feel like I've already lost some muscle mass, so I'm really going to hit the gym hard."
GUT AND HOEFL-RIESCH: If Vonn was considered the best female skier in the world heading into the Vancouver Olympics, Switzerland's Lara Gut could be held in that regard this time. And if it's not Gut, maybe Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch.
Right now, they're swapping the overall World Cup standings lead on a daily basis.
Gut's victory in Sunday's super-G gave her four wins in a season that is eight races old.
And Hoefl-Riesch, a double Olympic gold medalist in 2010, won both Lake Louise downhills.
BODE'S BACK: Vonn wasn't the only American ski racer making significant strides.
Bode Miller, a five-time Olympic medalist, showed he again will be worth watching on his sport's biggest stage, even if he's 36 and missed last season because of left knee surgery.
Miller finished second in a giant slalom Sunday at Beaver Creek, Colo., behind U.S. teammate Ted Ligety.
"A little bit of redemption," Miller called it.
Ligety's four consecutive giant slalom victories are the most in that discipline since Alberto Tomba did it 22 years ago. As things stand now, there might be no bigger favorite in any Alpine race at Sochi than Ligety in the GS.
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