Vonn turns in solid 1st run in return to racing

Associated Press
CORRECTS DATE - Tina Maze from Slovenia, races down the course during the women's World Cup giant slalom ski race in Aspen, Colo., on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012.  (AP Photo/ Nathan Bilow)
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ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — Lindsey Vonn overcame an error and exhaustion in her return to World Cup racing after missing time with an intestinal illness that landed her in the hospital.

The four-time overall champion finished the first run of the giant slalom Saturday in 10th place and trails leader Tina Maze of Slovenia by 1.95 seconds heading into the second run. Maze won the season-opening GS race in Soelden, Austria, last month.

Vonn nearly made a costly mistake on the challenging course, but managed to recover. It required all the energy a weakened Vonn had left, causing her to lose time through the last 10 gates. Vonn recently returned to training after being hit by the stomach bug.

"I'm tired," Vonn said. "But I thought I actually skied really well. Considering everything, I thought it was a great run."

Vonn wasn't sure if she was even going to compete in Aspen this weekend. Her stamina and energy have been completely wiped out by the virus, which is finally responding to antibiotics. She has yet to even make it through a full GS run without pulling off to the side out of breath.

Until Saturday, that is.

"I'm definitely building a lot of confidence from that first run," said Vonn, who will skip the slalom Sunday to conserve energy. "Eventually, on a course like this, it's all going to catch up with you. Your whole body is going to shut down at some point. I just have to stay positive and keep building."

Julia Mancuso (16th) and teenager Mikaela Shiffrin (18th) also qualified for another run. And while Mancuso was a little disappointed with her performance — she made a big mistake on the bottom — Shiffrin couldn't contain her enthusiasm. Known more as being an up-and-comer in the slalom, the 17-year-old from nearby Vail, Colo., put it all together in the GS.

It all began with a new approach at the starting gate.

"I wasn't thinking anything about racing, just going as fast as I can," she said. "I don't know — it worked.

"It's very exciting. A big relief. Last season, I wasn't making the second run. I just wanted to start the season on a good note, make it (to the second run) and know I can ski fast. I did it."

Austrian skier Anna Fenninger remains 0.12 seconds behind Maze, while Fenninger's teammate Kathrin Zettel sits in third place after the first run.

The day didn't go quite as well for Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany. She caught an edge that knocked her off balance and straight toward a gate. Just before crashing into the obstacle, she stuck up her left arm, saving her face but bruising her arm.

"It hurts pretty bad," said Hoefl-Riesch, whose day was done but still — arm willing, of course — plans to ski in the slalom race. "I'm really disappointed because I had good training the last two weeks. I was really fast in the training. Obviously, I can't bring it down in the race. It's really sad."

These days, it seems as though no one can catch Maze. She switched ski technicians before the season and they've instantly been in tune. Maze also finished fourth in a slalom race in Levi, Finland, two weeks ago.

Although Maze finished runner-up to Vonn in the overall standings last season, she still thought of it as a "hard" year.

"It was not a perfect season for me," Maze said. "Even though I was second in the end, I had many troubles and many mistakes. I wasn't happy at all. It was tough. I didn't win any races last year.

"For me, winning is the important thing. I like to win and being second all the time, you don't get 100 percent satisfied."

She may not have been No. 1 on the slopes, but Maze has occupied the top spot on the musical charts in Slovenia.

She sang on a music video entitled, "My way is my decision," a catchy pop tune. The music video has already generated nearly 800,000 hits on Youtube.

Maze also plays a pretty mean air guitar in the video with her skis.

A budding singer?

"I'm a skier. I don't want to be a singer," Maze said. "But I do like to have fun besides skiing. It was fun to make the video. I'm proud of this."

Next up, trying to catch Vonn on the hill.

"It's just skiing that makes you catch another person — you need to ski well and fast," Maze said. "Skiing is the most important thing and I'm skiing well now."

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Pat Graham can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pgraham34

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