Vonn ties downhill all-time record of 36 wins

Lindsey Vonn celebrates in the finish area after winning an alpine ski, women's World Cup downhill. (Pier Marco Tacca/AP)

ALTENMARKT-ZAUCHENSEE, Austria — Canadian Larisa Yurkiw and the rest of the field had to settle for playing second-best to American Lindsey Vonn on Saturday.

Yurkiw finished second to Vonn in a women’s World Cup downhill event for her third career podium finish. It came at the resort where the native of Owen Sound, Ont., made her World Cup debut nine years ago, finishing 58th in a downhill.

But Vonn stole the show, registering her 36th career downhill victory to match the record set by Austrian Moser-Proell in January 1980.

Yurkiw called racing against Vonn "a constant challenge. She is a good competitor though she is not unbeatable. But today she was."

Moser-Proell, 62, attended Saturday's race and was among the first to congratulate Vonn, who leaned backward and spread both arms in celebration right after finishing a full second ahead of the competition in an unusual two-run format downhill.

"She is so kind," said Vonn, who broke Moser-Proell's overall record of 62 victories a year ago in Italy. "I am so glad she's here today as she couldn't be in Cortina last year. It means a lot to me. She is a true legend of our sport."

Vonn, who now has 72 World Cup wins across all Alpine disciplines, already held the record for most super-G victories with 25. That discipline was introduced in the 1980s after Moser-Proell had retired.

The Austrian holds one more record that will take even Vonn some time to beat -- Moser-Proell won six overall titles compared to Vonn's four.

"I am very happy," said Vonn, competing in her first race of 2016 after taking a break with friends and family in the United States last week.

"I just had a bad feeling after (not finishing last month's downhill in) Val d'Isere, I lost the momentum, I was tired, my knees hurt, and I was sick in the end," she said. "I went home and I felt much better. So far I like the new year."

Vonn, who held a comfortable .91 second lead over Yurkiw after the first run, finished with a combined time of two minutes, 11.17 seconds, one second ahead of Yurkiw.

Cornelia Huetter of Austria was third, 1.66 seconds behind.

Despite building big leads over her competitors, Vonn said she "wasn't trying to do anything special. I just tried to ski a solid run."

Overall leader Lara Gut of Switzerland failed to finish the opening run and didn't score points. Gut remains in the lead, 58 points clear of Vonn, going into Sunday's super-G.

Gut lost balance halfway down her run and just avoided falling but missed the next gate.

"It took me too long to react. But physically I am OK," Gut said. "It's become rougher, there are some bumps in it. It's dark so you don't see the bumps."

With her third downhill win of the season, Vonn extended her lead in the discipline standings. She has 300 points, followed by Heutter with 250 and Swiss skier Fabienne Suter, who is injured, with 200.

Despite being Vonn's closest competitor in the discipline, Huetter said winning the season's downhill title "would be an unreasonable goal."

"All I wanted for this season is to improve in downhill," the Austrian said. "Lindsey always keeps a perfect balance between risking and skiing smoothly. There is still a lot of work to do for me."

It was the first women's downhill in 14 years to be contested over two runs. Organizers had to lower the start because of insufficient snow conditions in the upper part, shortening the course from its usual three kilometres to 1,875 metres.

"It was hard to stay relaxed," Vonn said about her final run. "It was tough with lots of bumps. I knew many girls had problems so I chose to ski a rounder line."

The first run was interrupted for 15 minutes when Lotte Smiseth Sejersted crashed and had to be airlifted off the course with suspected knee injuries. The Norwegian skier fell and both her skis came off before she slid into the safety netting.

Sejersted returned from injury this year after a crash in Val d'Isere in Dec. 2014 had ended her season prematurely.