Gagnon wins combined event, injured Vonn takes 13th
SOLDEU-EL TARTER, ANDORRA >> Hampered by a fractured left knee, Lindsey Vonn managed to extend her overall World Cup lead by placing 13th in an Alpine combined event on Sunday, while Marie-Michele Gagnon of Canada took the win.
Wearing braces on both knees, the American led the competition after the super-G portion but posted only the 23rd time in the slalom run to finish 1.93 seconds behind Gagnon.
Vonn's main rival for the overall title, Lara Gut of Switzerland, straddled a gate in the slalom and didn't finish, allowing the four-time champion to extend her lead to 28 points.
"Yesterday, I thought I wouldn't be able to ski today," Vonn said. "But there was a small chance and I believed in it. With this mindset, a lot is possible. I am a fighter. Many think it's just drama, but that's nonsense. I have pain but I can fight. I always give everything."
Vonn crashed in Saturday's super-G race after catching a spot of soft snow. She was brought down the hill on a rescue sled and underwent tests in a hospital.
Initially she said she had sustained a "hairline fracture," but after an additional test Sunday evening, Vonn wrote on Facebook that "the MRI shows a pretty substantial fracture in my tibia plateau. MCL looks decent as well as the rest of my knee. Now I will talk to my trainers and make a plan."
Hours before Sunday's race, Vonn posted a short video, showing how she had excess fluid removed from her knee.
"Drained my knee a few times and it's feeling a little better. Going to go up on the hill and see how it feels," she wrote.
Vonn inspected the course for the first leg and made one run on the warmup course before deciding to actually start. She trailed the then leader, American teammate Laurenne Ross, by 0.36 halfway down the course but won by more than a half-second on Ross with a strong finish.
Vonn screamed for joy after finishing, holding both arms and ski poles up in the air while waving to the spectators.
"There were two turns where I felt I was on the limit but I tried to ski a bit rounder to lower pressure on my left knee," she said. "On the bottom part I was really fast. It's incredible. I can only say it all came from the heart."
In the slalom, Vonn quickly lost her 0.96-second advantage over Gagnon. Knowing that Gut had skied out and thus failed to score points, Vonn held back and tried to avoid risks.
"I first thought I would give it all and risk everything," she said. "But when Lara was out, I decided to ski a bit more careful, to make sure I get to the finish. Maybe I was a bit too cautious but I've made really important points."
Gut, who won this season's first combined event in Val d'Isere, France, in December, was fifth after the super-G leg before her mishap in the slalom.
Chasing her first big crystal globe, the Swiss skier downplayed the slightly increased deficit to the American.
"The overall title will be awarded on March 20. Until then, you just have to race," said Gut, who scored just 15 points in Saturday's race. "I can't change it, life goes on."
Organizers had pushed back the start of the event by 90 minutes to allow fresh snow to be moved off the course.
Gagnon led Wendy Holdener of Switzerland by 0.20, and Anne-Sophie Barthet of France by 0.61 for her second career victory. She also won a combined event in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria, two years ago.
"I had pretty good super-G run yesterday and I had a solid run today so I had a good start position for the slalom," Gagnon said. "I am surprised to win. I was hoping for a podium because I knew I would have a good chance here."
Vonn's American teammate Mikaela Shiffrin finished eighth in her first career combined event. Shiffrin was only 40th after the super-G portion, giving her an unfavorable start position in her strongest discipline.
The Olympic slalom champion still managed the fourth-fastest slalom time to finish 1.57 behind Gagnon.
The third and final combined event of the season is scheduled for Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in two weeks. The women's World Cup first travels to Jasna, Slovakia, for a GS and a slalom next weekend.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.