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Vonn leads super combined with slalom up next

Lindsey Vonn took a step toward another Olympic medal Thursday morning, winning the downhill portion of the super combined Alpine event at Whistler Creekside.

Vonn, the American star who took a dramatic and emotional gold medal in the downhill Wednesday, now must hold off the rest of the field in the slalom portion, which begins at 12:30 p.m. PST. The super combined gold is awarded to the racer with the lowest cumulative time in the two legs.

"It was a long, long day yesterday, and I didn't get as much rest as I was hoping for," Vonn told reporters at the base of the mountain, which was being reset for slalom. "Especially with my shin, I need a little bit more time and therapy to try to get it to feel better."

She will face stout competition in the afternoon. Her time of 1 minute, 24.16 seconds over a shortened, less-severe version of the downhill course used Wednesday was only .33 of a second better than her best friend and top rival, Germany's Maria Riesch. American Julia Mancuso, the surprise silver medalist in the downhill, had another strong run, taking the early lead and finishing third, .80 of a second back.

Riesch, who skied poorly Wednesday and finished eighth in the downhill, nearly crashed at the top of her downhill run Thursday, losing her balance for a moment off the first jump. But she held it together, and by the bottom section of the course was making time up on Vonn, who skied immediately before her.

Vonn added that her bruised right shin felt worse than it had since she resumed training last week. But she conceded nothing.

"It's definitely by no means over," Vonn said. "Maria is right on my tail, and I don't know if I can hold her back in the slalom. I haven't skied slalom in, like, three-and-a-half weeks, except for that one [practice] day, so I really don't know what to expect."

Another top contender in the race, Sweden's Anja Paerson, skied Thursday despite a devastating crash in Wednesday's downhill. Paerson, who was threatening the times of both Vonn and Mancuso heading into the final jump in the downhill, lost her balance and hit the mountain violently. She skidded across the finish, and had to be helped from the course. But the five-time Olympic medalist, who won bronze in the combined four years ago in Turin, returned to the mountain and finished her downhill run Thursday, though she is 1.41 seconds behind Vonn, in seventh place.

To win another medal, Vonn will have to ski well in the slalom leg, a discipline in which both Riesch and Paerson and Austria's Elisabeth Goergl - the bronze medalist in the downhill who sits in eighth place in the super combined -- excel. Riesch leads the World Cup slalom standings, and Vonn has struggled in the event. Vonn has failed to finish three of the seven slalom races held on the World Cup circuit this season, and didn't qualify for the second run in another. She injured a wrist in a slalom race in December, and that has hindered her performance in the more technical races - those with more turns that are sharper.

Plus, Vonn is still dealing with a painful shin bruise that has colored much of her experience here. She originally suffered the injury while training slalom Feb. 2 in Austria, and she has said all along that turning puts more stress on the injury, which skiers refer to as "shin bang." She trained four runs of slalom on Monday, but this will be the first time she truly pushes it in a race.

Mancuso's downhill run, meanwhile, continued to show she might be a force here. She is the 2006 gold medalist in the giant slalom, but she is skiing exceptionally well in speed events as well - disciplines in which she has struggled over the years, at least in part because she is not as heavy, and therefore doesn't carry as much speed over flat sections of the courses, as some of the top contenders.

The women don't have a race Friday, but return to the mountain for the super-G - another speed event with a few more turns than downhill - on Saturday. The men's super-G is Friday, an event in which American Bode Miller will be going for his second medal of these Olympics and the fourth of his career.

By Barry Svrluga  |  February 18, 2010; 1:37 PM ET
Categories:  Lindsey Vonn , Skiing , Vancouver 2010  
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Next: Vonn crashes; Riesch wins gold, Mancuso silver in super combined

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