VAL D’ISERE, France — Lindsey Vonn skied out and clutched her knee in pain in the World Cup downhill race won by Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden of Switzerland on Saturday.
Vonn, with boyfriend Tiger Woods watching on in the finish area, lost her balance and her left ski went up in the air, putting all her weight on her surgically repaired right knee as she skied off course.
She didn’t fall but grimaced as she pulled up, clutching her knee in a worrying sign ahead of the Sochi Olympics. However, Vonn remains optimistic that she can be ready for Sochi.
“I’m going to stick to a similar plan that I was on before,” she said. “I just need to be more careful of how many races I do.”
Kaufmann-Abderhalden earned her first World Cup victory, finishing in 1 minute, 47.28 seconds and beating defending overall champion Tina Maze of Slovenia by 0.29 seconds.
“It was the first win, but the season began very well for me in Beaver (Creek) and Lake Louise. I had three very good downhill races,” Kaufmann-Abderhalden said. “I have done a lot of hard work since the summer, a lot of physical training.”
Vonn needed surgery in February to reconstruct two knee ligaments after a crash at the world championships, and then partially re-tore one of them in November.
“I didn’t hurt myself more than I’m already hurt,” Vonn said. “It was a small compression, and it was fully loaded on the right ski and my knee just completely gave out. I tried to pressure the ski again and it gave out again. I had no chance of making that gate, unfortunately.”
Vonn expects to build up her leg muscle and avoid races for a while.
“I’m at risk of doing more damage to my knee and my meniscus,” she said. “So I’m going to play it safe and race really minimal races. Probably one or two before the Olympics.”
She thinks her next race will be “sometime in January.”
The 27-year-old Kaufmann-Abderhalden earned her fourth career podium finish, and she considered retiring before getting her first one in March 2010.
“Yes, that was a hard time for me and I didn’t know what to do,” Kaufmann-Abderhalden said. “Then came Crans Montana and I had that first podium and I thought ‘Wow, it’s not so bad, I can ski very well.”’
Cornelia Huetter of Austria was third, 0.52 seconds back. The 21-year-old Huetter’s previous best was seventh in downhill at Lake Louise two weeks ago.
Many skiers had difficulty on the course. Former World Cup winner Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany struggled on the top section and finished ninth.
Marie Marchand-Arvier of France landed on her right shoulder after her skis crossed behind her, forcing the race to be stopped for about 15 minutes. Then American Stacey Cook flew into the safety netting. Cook appeared unharmed as she climbed back to her feet after a few moments.
“It was not so easy, as it was a little bit bumpy,” Huetter said. “So you had to be on the front of your skis.”
Although the 30-year-old Maze is still chasing her first win of the season – and her first at Val d’Isere – she feels happy with her overall form.
“GS is still my best discipline. But today I showed really good downhill,” the Slovenian said. “The downhill slope has a good slide. I think it will be a good GS tomorrow.”