Vonn nearing return to snow

VAIL, Colo. — For six months, Lindsey Vonn has thought about little else other than her reunion with skiing.

She spent four hours a day in the gym trying to get her surgically repaired right knee healthy enough to step back into her ski boots. She spent even more hours sitting by a river bank with a fly-fishing rod in her hands, peacefully pondering what it would feel like to return.

A thought she would quickly stifle — too painful with her knee still mending.

"Because I feel like I'm claustrophobic when I'm not skiing," Vonn said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I just want to go fast."

And very soon, that will happen again.

Vonn is way, way, way ahead of schedule in her return to the slopes. She wasn't supposed to be back on snow until around November. But she's planning to ski this weekend in Portillo, Chile.

Nothing too aggressive, of course, just a few easy runs with the U.S. team to test out her knee. But later at the camp, she's hoping to navigate through some slalom gates and maybe, just maybe — knee willing, of course — even open it up on the course.

"But my expectations are sometimes a little bit out of whack," said Vonn, who announced in March she's dating golfer Tiger Woods.

The four-time overall World Cup champion is eyeing a possible return to competition in late November at a stop in Beaver Creek, Colo., which is near her hometown of Vail. That's about three months ahead of the Sochi Olympics in February, where she will defend her downhill title.

As for her expectations in Sochi, well, they remain as lofty as ever.

"I wouldn't change my odds, just because I was injured," Vonn said. "I'm going to be back just as good, if not better, than I was before."

First, it starts with taking a few easy turns on snow.

Her surgeon, Dr. Bill Sterett, has already put some restrictions on the return. Namely, she must wear a brace.

"We're negotiating," Vonn said. "He'd rather I wear it to have a little bit more stability."

Vonn shredded her ACL and MCL ligaments during a bad crash at the world championships in Schladming, Austria, more than six months ago. She's viewed that wipeout dozens of times, just to figure out what happened (she hit a patch of softer snow, causing her right ski to stop and then buckle as she flipped over her ski tips).

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