Lindsey Vonn is first American to win four overall World Cup titles
ARE, Sweden (AP) -- All season, Lindsey Vonn has been the picture of poise on the mountain, no matter what she was dealing with off it.
This day was different.
With a chance to clinch her fourth World Cup overall title - more than any other U.S. ski racer in history - Vonn felt the nerves steadily building, her heart racing, when she stepped into the starting gate Friday for the second run of a giant slalom in Are, Sweden.
Leading after the first run, Vonn knew all she needed was one last safe pass through a bumpy course with flat light. Only, that's not her style.
So she attacked the entire way - "seizing the opportunity," she called it - and put the finishing touches on yet another race victory and yet another season championship, both by wide margins. Vonn's two-run time of 2 minutes, 28 seconds was nearly a half-second faster than runner-up Federica Brignone of Italy, and more than a second faster than Olympic champion Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany.
She secured the overall title with five races left.
"It's been an incredible season," Vonn said. "I've had a lot of personal struggles. But I found mental strength to overcome it."
In November, early in the season, she separated from Thomas Vonn, her husband of four years and her personal coach. She managed to turn those distractions into motivation on the course.
"I wanted to prove to myself that I can ski by myself," Vonn said. "It's been tough. But I think I definitely have held my focus more this year than ever before. I went out there and showed everyone I can ski under tough situations."
Sure did. And now Vonn is in pretty exclusive company.
She broke a tie with 1980s star Phil Mahre, the only other American ski racer with three World Cup overall titles. She ranks second among women from any country, behind only the six crowns won by Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria in the 1970s. Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg, with five, is the only man with more overall titles than Vonn.
It was Vonn's 52nd career World Cup race victory - extending her U.S. record - and second in a giant slalom.
She won the overall three times in a row from 2008-10. Then, a year ago, Vonn lost the overall title by just three points to main rival Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany on the last day of the season.
This time, there was no doubt about Vonn's supremacy: She wrapped up the overall title even before next week's World Cup finals.
Tina Maze of Slovenia is second in the overall standings with 1,254 points. Hoefl-Riesch is third at 1,075.
"It is a lot less stressful clinching the overall title before the finals," Vonn said. "Last year, I think I lost years off of my life. It's been an amazing season, one where I've had a lot of fun and enjoyed every race."
There's more to accomplish, too.
Now Vonn can try to become the first woman - and only second competitor - to reach the 2,000-point plateau in a World Cup season. She has 1,808 points, and with each race win worth 100 points, that milestone is within reach.
"Anything is possible, but it's going to be really difficult," Vonn said about the overall points record. "I'm going to have to execute in every race and seize the opportunity like I did today. I've got three big chances to make the top three in the downhill, super-G and the GS (at the finals). But I'm going to have to execute and make no mistakes."
Only Austrian great Hermann Maier reached 2,000 points in a single World Cup season, doing so in 2000. Janica Kostelic of Croatia holds the women's record of 1,970 points in 2006.
Does Vonn view herself on par with Maier?
"I've never really compared myself to Hermann," she said. "He was so dominant in his era."
Well, Lindsey, you've been pretty dominant in yours.