VAL D'ISERE, France (AP) — Slalom racing might be Lindsey Vonn's "weakest link" but the American surprised herself Friday by finishing a very close second to winner Lara Gut in a World Cup super-combined race.
"I love slalom, I'm just not very good at it," Vonn said. "After my two knee surgeries it's harder to train the volumes the young, healthier athletes are training. It's the weakest link, but I do really enjoy it."
Going fastest in the morning's downhill was totally expected, but it was Vonn's slalom run that really caught the eye as she finished just .01 seconds behind Swiss skier Gut in a thrilling race and missed out on a fifth straight win.
Vonn led Gut by .38 seconds after the downhill. The pressure was on Gut, but after she beat Michaela Kirchgasser's time to take the race lead, the tables were turned on Vonn.
"I was a little bit nervous in the slalom and didn't know what to expect," said Vonn, who last won a slalom race back in 2009.
Still, she was incredibly quick: .01 down at the first and second time splits on the Oreiller Killy course.
"I feel like I'm skiing well in slalom — shockingly — and if I do a bit more training I'll be fine. But it's hard to put more focus on it because there (are) only four races in the season," she said. "I'm not going to take away from my other events. GS (Giant Slalom) is more interesting (to) me after my win in Are (Sweden), so I have to put a little bit more focus on that."
It makes you wonder how good Vonn would be if she spent more time on slalom, but there are other priorities. She has a GS coming up on Sunday in Courchevel, a short trip away in the French Alps. But first of all she has a downhill here on Saturday, where she will be odds-on favorite to extend her women's record to 72 career wins.
"I definitely feel I have another gear to push myself to," Vonn said. "I feel I haven't reached the limit yet and I can really push it tomorrow."
The 31-year-old Vonn, who has fought back brilliantly from a career-threatening knee injury in 2013, has been joking about her age recently.
"That's what makes the super-combined so hard. I'm old. I need some sleep," she said, smiling. "It's a long day. It's tough when you have two different events. But the combined has always been one of my favorite events. I wish I was a little bit more agile and a bit younger so I could be a bit faster in slalom."
Vonn's dedication to titles and records — she is chasing a fifth overall World Cup title — means that she will never dedicate a whole season to perfecting slalom.
"I'm not like Bode (Miller). Would there be a chance I'd be competitive again? Yeah, that's a definite possibility. But that's not a gamble I'll take," she said. "I want to focus on the events I'm best at. It would take a whole season to build myself into the top 30. I don't have the energy or the time or the cartilage to do that."
After going so close, Vonn playfully punched Gut at the finish area.
"I knew I had to ski fast in slalom and I would have a chance. I've been training a bit more in slalom this summer and it worked out," Gut said. "I love being in Val d'Isere. I was racing here in my first world champs in 2009. It feels like home."
It was Gut's second win of the season after winning a giant slalom last month in Aspen, Colorado, the 14th of her career and 22nd podium overall.
Vonn still has a healthy overall lead with 480 points, with Gut's win pushing her up to second place, 102 points behind.
"Everything can go so fast," Gut said. "The best thing is to try and be fast and not think too much about the overall."
Kirchgasser's third place was her first podium since coming second in a super-combi on home snow at Altenmarkt-Zauchensee in 2014, and 15th overall. That total includes two slalom wins.
Fourth after the downhill, Slovenian Ilka Stuhec had high hopes but straddled a gate and went out.
Four others failed to finish the slalom, while veteran Elisabeth Goergl crashed out in the downhill, doing a forward roll. The Austrian was unharmed.