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Lindsey Vonn: a Broncos fan thriving in Italy

Italy's Daniela Merighetti waves an Italian flag as she celebrates on the podium after winning an alpine ski, women's World Cup downhill, in Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. Italy's Daniela Merighetti waves an Italian flag as she celebrates on the podium after winning an alpine ski, women's World Cup downhill, in Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)
By Andrew Dampf
AP Sports Writer / January 14, 2012
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CORTINA D'AMPEZZO, Italy—A healthy Lindsey Vonn was feeling like her old self, skiing well and getting ready for football.

She finished second to Italy's Daniela Merighetti on Saturday in a World Cup downhill that was so windy she knew she couldn't have done any better.

Vonn then got prepared for an early wake-up call before Sunday's super-G, setting her alarm at 4 a.m. to cheer on Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos in the NFL playoffs.

Last weekend in Bad Kleinkircheim, Austria, Vonn struggled with a stomach illness and uncharacteristically missed the podium in two speed races. This performance marked a complete turnaround.

"I felt great again, my energy is back to normal and I'm able to do what I want on my skis and that's definitely not the feeling I had on my skis last week," Vonn said.

Merighetti, meanwhile, was skiing with a broken left thumb but completed the Olympia delle Tofane course in 1 minute, 33.17 seconds for her long-awaited first victory, which came before her home fans in one of the season's biggest downhills.

Vonn finished 0.21 seconds behind and defending overall champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany was third, 0.40 back.

Nicknamed "Dada," the 30-year-old Merighetti made her World Cup debut 11 years ago and had gone 164 races without a win. Her only other top-three finish was a second-place result in a giant slalom in Are, Sweden, nine years ago. She has also had three fourth-place finishes.

"I'm dedicating this win to myself. I never changed my equipment, I've always just kept looking forward and plowing ahead," said Merighetti, who has used Salomon skis her entire career. "This is my life."

On a clear and sunny day and the snow in perfect condition, shifting winds picked up just as the top-ranked skiers started between Nos. 16 and 22.

Merighetti feared bad luck when she drew the No. 13 bib during the draw on Friday the 13th, but her run was virtually flawless. At the finish, as fans celebrated the home victory, Vonn shrugged as if to say she couldn't have done any better.

"It was a solid run, I didn't really make any mistakes," Vonn said. "Today you needed to ski well but also have a bit of luck with the wind. It was constantly changing and right out of the start I got some really bad wind and it was swirling and I couldn't really see the first gate."

Vonn has a history of strong skiing in Cortina, where she has five victories and 11 previous top-three results.

"But when you have conditions like this in any event you could be last -- easily," Vonn said. "So you have to be happy when you're on the podium and I definitely am."

Vonn increased her lead in the overall and downhill standings. With wins worth 100 points each, she's 244 points ahead of Austrian slalom specialist Marlies Schild in the overall standings and 127 points in front of Austria's Elisabeth Goergl in the downhill rankings.

"Last year I was second in the overall by three points, so every point counts," Vonn said.

It was a strong day for the U.S. team with Stacey Cook sixth, Julia Mancuso ninth, Laurenne Ross 18th and Leanne Smith 30th.

For Cook, who has never finished higher than fourth in eight seasons on the circuit, it was her best result of the season.

"My coach the other day said I was like a fine wine, getting better with age, and I turned back to him and I was like, 'Yeah, I've always been kind of a late bloomer,'" Cook said.

Meanwhile, Ross is slowly getting her form back after crashing on her face in Lake Louise, Alberta, early last month. She still has large, raw scars encircling her right eyebrow and lingering pain in her left knee -- and 10 days ago she fractured her left pinkie during training.

"It's just a pinkie," Ross said. "Stuff happens."

In Sunday's super-G, Vonn will be seeking her first victory since winning on home snow in Beaver Creek, Colo., more than a month ago. She has won the last three super-G's in Cortina.

But football was also on her mind. The Denver-New England game was scheduled for a 2 a.m. start in Italy and Vonn planned to keep tabs on the second half.

"I think I'm just going to have my app running and I'll set my alarm to keep updates on the score," Vonn said. "It's going to be a special game. The Broncos and Green Bay are both my teams because my family is in Wisconsin and I live in Colorado, but I'm definitely cheering for the Broncos."

"Hopefully, I wake up to a great score and that sets the mood for the whole day," she added. "But either way I'm just going to attack and go for the win. It's been a couple weeks now."

Vonn, who is divorcing Thomas Vonn, has denied gossip linking her to Tebow. Nor is she worried about reviving such talk because of her interest in the Broncos.

"Come on!" she said with a big laugh. "It's the playoffs."

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