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Knee mended, Lindsey Vonn solid in downhill training run as she returns to World Cup

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Lindsey Vonn concentrated on the rolling terrain before her and where she could pick up speed on a course she knows so well.

Not once did her surgically repaired right knee enter her mind. Not once did she wonder if that knee — the one she's torn twice and that sidelined her for the Sochi Olympics — might give her any sort of trouble.

Vonn felt like vintage Vonn again, even if she did hold back a bit in her first World Cup downhill training run in nearly a year on Tuesday in Lake Louise, Alberta.

She's saving that extra burst for race day, especially now with that knee no longer an issue.

The four-time overall World Cup champion showed flashes of her usual speed in Lake Louise, a place that's always been one of her favorites. She picked up velocity midway through the course and finished in 1 minute, 54.41 seconds, which was 1.82 seconds behind Norway's Lotte Smiseth Sejersted.

The time didn't matter, just the knee and her confidence in it.

"I don't have to worry about whether my body is going to hold me or not," Vonn told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "I'm back to doing what I used to do. I can't wait to race with all my ligaments intact for once."

Vonn wasn't so much nervous in the start gate as anxious. She's been working toward this competition since she underwent another ACL surgery last January.

"It felt really good to finally be standing here and actually get a run on a World Cup course with a 100 percent healthy knee," Vonn said.

She had no intention of attacking the course. Not now. Not in a training run.

PHOTO: Lindsey Vonn of the United States races the course during the first training run for the World Cup women's downhill ski race in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014.  (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)
Lindsey Vonn of the United States races the course during the first training run for the World Cup women's downhill ski race in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

That comes Friday in the downhill, when the 30-year-old chases after her 15th World Cup win at Lake Louise. She's won here so often that it's jokingly been dubbed, "Lake Lindsey."

"I feel like I'm finally back to racing the way I used to," said Vonn, who also has another downhill on Saturday and a super-G on Sunday. "I have a game plan and go out there and execute it.

"I was skiing solidly today. I wasn't pushing the line. I was just getting a feel for the course, and the speed."

Vonn was curious, though, how close she would be to the leaders. Not that she read anything into winding up nearly two seconds behind Sejersted.

"Time is irrelevant in training runs," said Vonn, whose last World Cup race was last December in Val d'Isere, France, when she failed to finish a downhill because of her knee. "It's just a matter of getting comfortable and building confidence every day."

After the training run, Vonn talked with reporters on site and said she feels "very strong right now — on par with my top years. ... I'm extremely strong. I have to trust my body at this point."

As for her confidence, the two surgeries didn't shake it. It has made her more cautious in her training, though. She won't ski if the conditions aren't right.

"I'm not going to take an excess risk," she said. "I'm going to save all the risk for the races."

Vonn will be pursuing history this season. She's three wins from matching the World Cup record of 62 race victories by skiing great Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria.

But that wasn't on her mind Tuesday.

"It's so nice to be back," she said. "I've been waiting a long time for this race. It was fun. I have a huge smile on my face."

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