Vonn among pacesetters at ski World Cup races
VAL D'ISERE: American skiing superstar Lindsey Vonn admits a lot has changed since she walked off from this famous French resort with a cow in tow as part of her downhill victory prize in 2005.
But come Friday one thing will remain the same; Vonn will be among the pacesetters during a super-cold weekend of racing that will feature a super-combined, a downhill and a super-G.
Vonn, a two-time overall World Cup champion who has excelled on numerous occasions on the two women's runs in Val d'Isere, is currently the fastest women on the circuit in the blue riband speed event of the downhill.
She came close to a clean sweep of winning all three races held at Lake Louise in Canada recently, winning both downhills and finishing a close second in the super-G.
While some would bet money on a clean sweep here -- where temperatures have plummeted to a breath-sapping minus 20 degrees Celsius -- Vonn is more circumspect.
Friday's super-combined is made up of a downhill and a slalom, the technical event in which she is strong but by no means a specialist.
Only a few hours after dominating a training run for Saturday's downhill, Vonn said Wednesday she will make up her strategies as she goes along.
"Super-combined is always difficult because you have to really ski well in the downhill and get as much of an advantage over the slalom skiers as you can," she said.
"And the slalom is only one run, so you have to attack. And when you do that in slalom it's easy to make a mistake.
"We'll see how I stand after the downhill run, then we'll make a tactical plan for the slalom."
Vonn's rivals in the super-combined are likely to be German rival, and great friend, Maria Riesch and similar all-rounders like Elizabeth Goergl of Austria.
When it comes to the downhill, the 25-year-old American -- whose parents moved the entire family to the steeper slopes in Colorado from their native Minnesota when Vonn was 11 years old so she could follow her dream -- the competition gets noticably tighter.
Although Riesch leads the overall World Cup standings, which groups together points from all the alpine disciplines, Vonn has won the two downhills held so far.
Riesch is second in the downhill race, tied with Canada's Emily Brydon, while multiple world champion Anja Paerson of Sweden is fourth.
Vonn is oozing confidence, but admits she is always searching for the tiny improvements to her technique and material that could make the difference between victory and 10th place.
"I was happy with the training run today, I still have a little room for improvement ... I got a little bit behind the course at times but there's just a few little things I have to iron out before the races," she added.
"It's always nice to do well in training runs, it doesn't really mean much but it's still nice for the confidence.
"The conditions are great, it's perfect snow and it's a fun course so it's great to be back."
The downhill run Saturday will be raced on the Oreiller-Killy run, which, Vonn admits, is a "lot more fun" than the more challenging Solaise, where she won her world title in February and which she has also mastered in the World Cup.
In the event of victory there will be no prize cows on offer, thankfully for Vonn. The one she won in December 2005 -- and which she occasionally visits in Austria -- has since had five calves.
Barely two months from the winter Olympics in Vancouver, Vonn now looks back at the victory that also won her a cow as one of several benchmarks in her sterling career.
"A lot has changed since I won my cow here. I know a lot more about my sport, line and technique, and I have a lot more confidence in myself.
"I'm definitely a lot physically stronger than I was back then. I still have drive and determination to go fast. That hasn't changed."