Lindsey Vonn, Lara Gut pursue overdue gold at ski worlds

GENEVA (AP) — Their speed-race duel lit up the 2009 ski world championships, yet neither Lindsey Vonn nor Lara Gut has won a gold medal since at the two-yearly event.

So there is unfinished business for star attraction Vonn and home favorite Gut at St. Moritz where their first race on Tuesday opens the 11-title, 13-day program.

Vonn has four overall World Cup titles as the best all-around skier, and Gut won her first last year though each has only a silver and bronze medal from recent world championships.

In her latest comeback from serious injury, Vonn has raced only five times in January. Still, the downhill great added a record-extending 77th World Cup win to show that her broken left knee from last February and broken right upper arm in November has not slowed her much.

"I'm in one piece, which is positive for me," said the American, who suffered a serious knee injury in her first race at the 2013 worlds. "It's not often that I go into world championships in one piece so that's good."

Gut is only 25 yet her World Cup title last season seemed overdue given the impact of her first memorable World Cup performance as a 16-year-old at St. Moritz. Then, she was set to win a downhill as a longshot No. 32 starter but for crashing across the finish line on one ski to place third.

"I'm getting wiser somehow," Gut said, "because I can stay focused more on my skiing and what I have to do, and not get lost in thought about what I should do better."

Gut is favored to strike first in the women's super-G on Tuesday. She has won three times this season in a discipline that tests ability to improvise on a course setting racers can inspect in the morning but have not skied before.

Vonn might start favorite for the marquee downhill on the middle Sunday after having five opportunities to test the course — in training runs, and the downhill section of the combined event scheduled next Friday.

The men's downhill gets the prime middle Saturday slot and might be the most wide open gold medal to win. Especially as Aksel Lund Svindal, the 2007 and 2013 champion from Norway, ended his season early for knee surgery.

Five different men won the five World Cup downhills this season, including Travis Ganong of the U.S., the worlds silver medalist two years ago. A sixth racer, Beat Feuz of Switzerland, won the season-ending race on the men's Corviglia slope last March.

The women's race on the adjoining Engiadina track was first used in 2015 when Vonn won the super-G and Gut got the downhill victory.

At an altitude of 2,840 meters (9,300 feet) for the men's downhill start, the courses stand above the tree line with little protection from cross winds.

That should not affect the program-closing slalom races on Feb. 18-19, when the season's two most prolific skiers should start favorite.

Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S., the two-time defending champion and Olympic champion, and Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway have five World Cup wins in their specialist discipline.

In Vonn's early season absence, Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia won three downhills and, with nine-time World Cup podium finisher Sofia Goggia of Italy, shapes as a breakout first-time medalist.

The chance for a surprise medalist is there, one year before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics targeted now by injured stars like Svindal and five-time world champion Ted Ligety, plus Bode Miller who is skipping this season.

Now 39, Miller is expected in St. Moritz to promote the skis he plans to use at the Olympics and call some races for TV at the course where he won two gold medals in the 2003 worlds.

In 2003, an 18-year-old Vonn did not make the U.S. team "because my coaches didn't think I was good enough."

"Now I get my revenge," the all-time World Cup leader said in a recent interview. "I get my second chance and I hope I can prove everyone wrong."