January 21

Swiss skier Lara Gut races toward Olympic stage

An injury in 2009 to the then teenager from Switzerland prevented her from trying to stop Lindsey Vonn from winning downhill gold at the Vancouver Games.

By Graham Dunbar
The Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) – Lara Gut is finally having the standout Olympic season many predicted for her four years ago.

click image to enlarge

Switzerland Lara Gut competes during an alpine ski World Cup women’s downhill, in Altenmarkt Zauchensee, Austria, Saturday, Jan. 11 , 2013.

The Associated Press

Then, as a precociously talented teenager from Switzerland, an injury prevented Gut from trying to stop Lindsey Vonn from winning downhill gold at the Vancouver Games.

As the Sochi Olympics race into view, the two Alpine speedsters have reversed roles. This time, Gut has collected World Cup wins in three disciplines while Vonn has had to pull out of the games because of injury.

“I’ve been working so hard to be back,” said Gut, who dislocated her right hip in a training crash in September 2009. “I had to build everything again, my body, my skiing skills, my feeling on the snow.

“I think right now, just everything is paying off what happened during the last four years,” said the 22-year-old Swiss, whose four wins this season include the tough new downhill in Beaver Creek.

Gut ultimately missed the entire 2010 Olympic season, though only in mid-January of that year did she reluctantly accept she could not compete.

About a month later, Vonn dominated the downhill in Whistler. Only teammate Julia Mancuso finished within 1.4 seconds of the new Olympic champion.

Gut did not even watch on television.

“The day of the downhill was (my) first day back on the snow. It was most important for me to be skiing,” Gut said after winning in Beaver Creek in November.

Asked if her recent win on Vonn’s home snow was devalued by the American’s absence, Gut’s response revealed a self-confidence which helps explain her competitive edge on skis. And why she wouldn’t win a popularity contest among her peers.

“Nobody asked Lindsey if it was different that I wasn’t at the Olympics,” said Gut, who speaks five languages fluently. “If you win, nobody cares who was there and who was not.”

Gut was airbrushed out of the Vancouver Olympics story, yet several months earlier an American TV crew came to her Italian-speaking home region in advance of the anticipated rivalry with Vonn, a rematch of their 2009 world championship races in Val d’Isere, France.

There, Vonn dug deep to find a gold-medal run in downhill and relegate Gut to silver. Three days earlier, the pair was fastest in the downhill portion of super-combined that saw Gut get another silver as Vonn skied out in the slalom.

Switzerland’s head coach in 2009, Hugues Ansermoz, recalled his “big relief” to have a talent like Gut.

“Usually I don’t like the athletes, especially the young ones, who come and say, ‘I know what’s good. I don’t want to do this, I want to do that,”’ Ansermoz, now coaching Canada, told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “But I realized really quickly with her that when she said that, 90 percent of the time she was right. It was really incredible.”

Throughout her career, Gut has isolated herself with a personal coaching and management team, guided by parents Pauli and Gabriella.

Mauro Pini, Gut’s former private coach and later Swiss women’s head coach for two years, thinks Gut is now a more complete skier.

“She’s physically perfect. Technically she improved because she did more work in the summer,” Pini told the AP. “I think the important point is Lara is not any more a little girl, she’s a young lady. She is more mature.”

In her comeback season, Swiss team bosses suspended Gut for two races after she criticized Pini in an interview. He believes Gut is now happier and more confident because of “less fighting, less problems, less pressure.”

“I think this really makes the difference,” said Pini, now hired to coach defending overall World Cup champion Tina Maze.

But Gut noted in St. Moritz last month that her resurgence upset some.

“Certain girls, who are used to being in front, have a bit of a hard time dealing with the fact that I’m in front,” she said, smiling.

Her results have cooled since then, but Gut is getting ready to make her Olympic debut in Sochi.

“Today there aren’t many surprises for me in this world,” she said. “I know how it works and all the small details fall perfectly into place.”

AP Sports Writers Andrew Dampf, Howard Fendrich and Pat Graham contributed to this report.

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