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Lindsey Vonn captures 1st World Cup race in nearly 2 years, leads US downhill podium sweep

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Lindsey Vonn punctuated her piercing scream after crossing the finish line by yelling "Yes!!!" as she fell to the snow.

Finally, her surgically repaired right knee was OK. Finally, she could attack a course again.

And finally, she was back.

Vonn was vintage Vonn in a World Cup downhill race at Lake Louise in Alberta on Saturday, earning her first win in nearly two years.

Oh, and she led an American podium sweep, too, the first time that's ever happened.

"It really couldn't be a better day," Vonn told reporters at the finish line.

Confident in the stability of her right knee again, the four-time overall champion aggressively charged the course and finished in a time of 1 minute, 50.48 seconds to earn her 15th career win at Lake Louise.

Vonn's teammates were right behind her, with Stacey Cook taking second and Julia Mancuso winding up third.

"I'm so excited for Lindsey. A cool day," Cook said. "It really helps having Lindsey back, and her competitiveness and enthusiasm for the sport. It pushes us. That's when we thrive is when we push each other."

The day before, in Vonn's first World Cup race in nearly a year, she wasn't her usual aggressive self. She held back just a bit and finished eighth.

Not so on Saturday. Vonn took chances, like she usually does, especially here, on a course that's been dubbed "Lake Lindsey" due to all her success.

"It's just finding my rhythm and finding my confidence," she said. "I'm finally back to where I feel confident and I'm pushing the limits. I want more speed. I haven't had that yet until today."

That Cook and Mancuso shared the podium with her made the afternoon all the more memorable. They are all about the same age and have been with each other through the wins and the wipeouts.

In addition to sweeping the podium, the U.S. also had Laurenne Ross finish sixth and Alice McKennis 18th.

PHOTO: Lindsey Vonn of United States, reacts in the finish area following her run in the women's World Cup downhill ski race in Lake Louise, Alberta, Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)
Lindsey Vonn of United States, reacts in the finish area following her run in the women's World Cup downhill ski race in Lake Louise, Alberta, Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

"We have a good energy (on the team)," Vonn said. "We all have a great dynamic. Everyone's excited for this season."

The win caught some of her competitors off guard — or at least that's the feeling Vonn got.

"I definitely think that I shocked a few people," Vonn said. "Yesterday, everyone was genuinely happy and thought it was a really great start to my season. I don't think anyone expected me to win today. I could definitely see that on some of the girls' faces. My teammates knew this was coming. They were extremely supportive and happy."

Vonn has a super-G race on Sunday, so she did not have any big plans for celebrating the victory. Perhaps a glass of champagne with her teammates and her father. But that's it.

However, when she returns to Vail, Colorado, there could be an elaborate party.

"I'll probably have some ice cream with my dog and watch some 'Law & Order,'" Vonn said. "That would be pretty much the perfect scenario."

It was Vonn's first victory since Jan. 26, 2013, in Maribor, Slovenia. Less than two months later, she injured her knee in a wipeout at world championships.

She tried to get back in time for the Sochi Games, but partially tore one of the reconstructed ligaments in a training crash in Copper Mountain, Colorado, three months before the Olympics.

Again, she attempted to get through it, only to sprain her MCL racing a downhill in France last December. A month later, she had a second surgery.

This time around, she took things easier with her recovery. No need to be aggressive.

"My knee feels really good. I don't think about my knee at all," said Vonn, who captured downhill gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games. "I don't ski differently because of it. I'm back to doing what I used to do."

Vonn analyzed her downhill performance from Friday and noticed she was off her line and not pushing as hard. So she made the adjustments.

"I tried to stay deeper in my tuck, tried to be more aggressive in some turns," she said. "I think it paid off."

Vonn pulled within two of matching the World Cup record of 62 race victories held by skiing great Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria.

"It's always something I kind of think about," Vonn said. "Right now, I'm just focusing on trying to ski well.

"I'm still getting a feel of things and building my confidence. I feel a lot better after the win today. My confidence is definitely a lot better. I hope to keep the ball rolling and keep improving."

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PHOTO: Lindsey Vonn, of the United States, smiles during an interview in the finish area following her run at the women's World Cup downhill ski race in Lake Louise, Alberta, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)
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