LAKE LOUISE, Alberta – The fact that a skier with a partially torn ligament had the USA's best performance in the downhill Saturday is either a testament to Lindsey Vonn's immense talent or an indication of the speed team's confounding struggles. Likely it's a bit of both.
In her second race since shredding her right knee 10 months ago, Vonn placed a U.S.-best 11th among the 56 finishers. Three of her seven teammates were in the top 30, which was an improvement from Friday's showing.
After a nervous and cautious performance on Friday, which resulted in 40th place, Vonn raced more like the skier who is just three victories away from winning the most World Cups than any woman in history.
Vonn pumped her fist as she finished with a time of 1 minute, 56.35 seconds, which was 1.26 seconds off the pace of winner Maria Höfl-Riesch of Germany, who also won Friday's downhill.
"Yeah, that was much better," Vonn said as she took a bite of a toasted marshmallow. "A lot more like it. I'm just really happy with the improvements that I made from yesterday. And just in general my whole body language was different. I was more aggressive and just more confident and comfortable.
"You know, yesterday, it felt rusty. Just hadn't done it in so long. I was too nervous. And today it was much more like myself. I still made mistakes and it wasn't my best skiing but it's a long way from where I was yesterday. Hopefully I can continue to improve."
It was so cold even the chair lifts were shivering. As American Katie Ryan tweeted before the race "-40 today! Chair won't open for fear of people freezing to death if it stops Very reassuring"
Closer to race time, the temperature rose a few degrees and the chair lift began its endless loop.
Nearly three weeks after Vonn partially tore her right ACL in training, Vonn is as upbeat as ever about being ready for February's Sochi Olympics.
"I'm optimistic. I learned that from my mom," she said. "The glass is half full and I was dealt a really bad hand and I'm going to play my cards to the best of my ability. But it's like chess: you've got to map out your strategy and I'm going to take this season like a chess game. I'm going to play my cards the best that I can and hopefully I'll be in a checkmate position when it comes to the Olympics."
U.S. speed coach Chip White also hopes the entire team continues to improve heading into tomorrow's super-G. Last season the Americans earned six of nine possible podium spots at Lake Louise. In 2012, Vonn won both downhills and the super-G, recording a hat trick at the Alberta resort for the second consecutive year.
"They were frustrated from yesterday's performance and felt they needed to step things up," White said. "They did a good job of overcoming not their finest moments."