ASPEN, COLO. - From the moment she struck the rock, Lindsey Vonn knew she had no chance of finishing on the podium in the opening race of the Aspen Winternational. All she wanted to do was get down the mountain safely.
The rock damaged an edge on Vonn's right ski about halfway through Saturday's giant slalom. With Aspen's Strawpile slope as icy as a frozen pond, anything short of a perfectly sharp edge would not hold the turns, and Vonn slid several times as she finished 39th in the first run. That prevented the Burnsville native from earning a second run, leaving her with a disappointing start to the only U.S. stop on the women's World Cup tour.
Kathrin Hoelzl of Germany won the GS with a combined time of 2 minutes, 9.63 seconds over two runs. Sarah Schleper, who spends summers in Minnesota, finished 23rd, and U.S. teammate Julia Mancuso was 13th. Vonn, Schleper and Edina's Kaylin Richardson are among seven U.S. women who will compete in slalom today.
Vonn had never before hit a rock in a race. She struck one while free skiing the hill Friday, a bad omen for a weekend in which she hoped to win her first World Cup medal in giant slalom.
"They tried to get all the rocks out this morning, but it just happens,'' Vonn said. "It's a little bit disappointing, and it's unfortunate it happened in Aspen. But you have to take what you get, and hopefully, [today] is a better day.''
Several of Vonn's family members and friends traveled from Minnesota to Aspen for the races. Some sported custom-made "Vonntourage'' sweatshirts and "I Love Lindsey'' caps, and Vonn's legion of young fans lined the fence with signs urging her on.
Vonn is the only American woman to win World Cup races in four disciplines. Giant slalom is the only one that has eluded her, and she finished a career-best fourth in the event at Aspen last year. She has been working to improve her technique and has been training extremely well this season, finishing ninth in the season's first GS in Soelden, Austria.
Friday, Vonn said the uneven terrain of the Aspen course did not play to her strengths. The rock completely spoiled her chances.
"I went on to my right ski, and there was nothing,'' she said. "I knew right then. It was like, 'Oh, God, from here on out, just make it down.' That's all I was trying to do.''