LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP) — Lindsey Vonn overcame a concussion and won three titles in three days this month. Yet she was powerless when faced with wet, foggy weather and a decision by skiing’s ruling body to cancel the women’s season finale.
“Win or lose, I just wanted the chance. I feel devastated,” Vonn said in a statement released by her U.S. team.
Vonn was hoping to win a fourth straight overall World Cup title in Saturday’s giant slalom. Instead, friend and rival Maria Riesch’s three-point lead held in the overall standings after the race was called off because of poor course conditions.
“The cancellation of this race doesn’t just hurt me,” Vonn said. “It hurts the fans and the sport of ski racing as a whole.”
Thick fog later descended, making it unlikely the two-run race could have been completed.
However, the men’s slalom was held Saturday in fog and poor visibility after a delayed start. The men took the 10 a.m. slot originally held by the women.
The International Ski Federation said the decision to cancel — denying Vonn a last chance to retain her title — was not taken lightly.
“Working with these kind of snow conditions, we don’t have any tools that would make it a fair race,” spokeswoman Riikka Rakic told The Associated Press by telephone. “All the efforts have been undertaken, but it was not quite enough.”
The final points tally was 1,728-1,725 in Riesch’s favor. The German clinched her first title after two straight seasons as runner-up. Vonn acknowledged some regrets about how the season ended after five months and 33 races.
“There may never be a day where I don’t look back and say, ‘What if?’” she said. “But right now, all I’m thinking about is how much harder I need to work this summer to continue winning races.”
Vonn said Riesch deserved her success.
“Maria had an outstanding season and again proved to be my biggest competitor,” Vonn said. “She’s worked really hard for this. I’m happy for her.”
Vonn said she was “extremely proud” to have been part of this.
“A few weeks ago I was over 200 points behind, and I was able to battle back into the overall lead with just two races remaining,” she said.
Vonn defied predictions with a bold comeback in recent weeks after withdrawing midway through the world championships on Feb. 14 because of the lingering effects of a concussion. She crashed during a training run in Austria on Feb. 2.
Riesch extended her overall lead while Vonn sat out races. Vonn competed in the worlds but skipped training runs and events to try to recover. After finishing seventh in the super-G at worlds on Feb. 8, she said she felt as if she were “skiing in a fog.”
Vonn decided to defend her title in the downhill at worlds and won the silver on Feb. 13, but withdrew from the championships a day later. Vonn returned Feb. 25 and finished sixth in the super-combined. Then within a three-day span, she won the downhill, super-G and super-combined titles on March 4-6.
Vonn overtook Riesch for the overall lead with a fourth-place finish in the downhill Wednesday when Riesch failed to score after placing 17th.
After the super-G was canceled because of poor weather Thursday, the Minnesota native still had a 27-point edge. But she scored too few points in the slushy slalom Friday, finishing 13th while Riesch placed fourth. That left her three points behind.
After the race, Vonn thanked her husband and adviser, Thomas, and U.S. coaches. She praised her teammates, including Julia Mancuso, whose victory in the downhill Wednesday was one of the season’s many “what if” moments. Mancuso’s first victory since 2007 pushed Vonn into fourth position, which scored 10 points fewer than third.
Lara Gut of Switzerland and world champion Elisabeth Goergl of Austria also finished ahead of Vonn in the downhill.
“Ted (Ligety) continues to take GS to a new level, Julia (Mancuso) was right back on the podium and the U.S. women won the downhill and super G standings,” Vonn said.
“I cannot thank my husband, coaches and our entire team enough for their support. This was a great season.”
However, Riesch fears their close friendship — somewhat unique among rivals in international sports — will suffer because of the way the seasonlong duel ended.
Riesch will marry her agent, Marcus Hoefl, in Austria next month, and was pressed by German-speaking media on whether she expects Vonn will accept her invitation to attend.
“I don’t think so,” said Riesch, adding she was “disappointed” at Vonn’s reaction to her victory.
Speaking earlier at an official news conference, Riesch was reluctant to detail their exchange at the trophy presentation, yet revealed that Vonn, “said nothing.”
“I thought it was her turn to come to me,” Riesch said. “When I went up to the podium I just gave her a hug and said, ‘Congratulations’ and, yeah, there was nothing.”
Now there’s next year for Vonn.
A competitive drive has fueled the 26-year-old’s rise to become an Olympic and world champion and the most successful U.S. skier in history. Her 41 career wins is fifth among women in the 44-year World Cup. Barring injuries, the all-time mark of 62 held by Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell is within reach.
Riesch suggested to German media that such single-mindedness could strain their relationship.
“I always congratulated her as a sportsman. I respected what she did and I accepted it,” Riesch said. “Even for me the situation was not always simple, but I always stayed fair.
“It’s much more difficult for a person like Lindsey who only wants to win and has had so much success.”