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Vonn and Ligety start ski season strongly

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SOELDEN, Austria (AP)

Lindsey Vonn hasn't missed a beat in her risky switch of ski manufacturers entering an Olympic year. Ted Ligety, meanwhile, has picked up right where he left off before injuring his right knee at the end of last season.

Vonn finished a respectable ninth in her worst event - giant slalom - to open the World Cup season Saturday and Ligety placed second in the men's GS on Sunday behind Swiss veteran Didier Cuche.

Vonn, the two-time defending overall World Cup champion, switched from Rossignol to Head in the offseason when the financially struggling French company asked its athletes to accept 50 percent cuts in their endorsement deals.

"I definitely haven't lost anything. The equipment is working really well and if anything I think I'm skiing much better," said Vonn, who also placed ninth last year on the Rettenbach glacier with her old equipment. "I definitely made some progress in GS. You may not have seen it today, but I'm training well and I just need to get some more miles on the equipment."

Ligety didn't require surgery after injuring his knee at the U.S. championships in March, but he was in a full leg brace for six weeks before beginning rehab.

"This spring was definitely the most boring spring I've ever had in a while," he said. "Usually that's the time I'm out powder skiing and biking and other sports, so it was tough to sit on the couch and watch everyone else train and have fun.

"But by July I was able to train a little harder - ski half as hard as I wanted to - and then by Chile (September training camp) I was 100 percent and these last two weeks I've been pushing it all out."

Finishing second to the defending World Cup giant slalom champion in his first race back put the finishing touch on the return.

"I wasn't expecting that because he just came from injury," U.S. head coach Sasha Rearick said. "He had been skiing very well technically, but to throw himself down that hill and take the chances, that shows the extreme competitor in Ted. That was a fantastic performance."

Ligety lost 0.6 of a second to Cuche in the flat finishing section on both runs. Cuche, unlike Ligety, also excels in the speed events of downhill and super-G and is more adept at skiing the flats.

"That's a big difference to make up in a race," Ligety said. "He's a downhill skier, so you definitely see his strength down there in the straighter, faster section. That's something I need to work on."

Bode Miller, who skipped the Soelden race after taking a seven-month hiatus from the sport, plans to make the World Cup stop in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 14-15 his first race back with the U.S. Ski Team after two years of skiing independently.

Another U.S. star, 2006 Olympic giant slalom champion Julia Mancuso, is working hard to bounce back from hip and back problems that hindered her last winter. She finished 21st in the first run on Saturday and then skied off course in her second trip down.

Mancuso stuck with Rossignol despite the manufacturer's difficulties and indicated she's still dialing in her equipment.

"We're figuring things out. It's going to take a little bit but hopefully I'm ready by Aspen," she said, looking ahead to the races in Colorado on Thanksgiving weekend.

Vonn already appears to be in good form for her goal of winning a gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics in February. Even so, she is keeping her expectations realistic, especially in giant slalom, where her best career result was fourth in Aspen last season.

"In GS, all that's important is that I get to the finish, get some points, and I stay ahead of the right people," said Vonn, who excels at downhill, super-G and occasionally slalom.

Vonn's husband, Thomas, skied giant slalom at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and had nothing to criticize about his wife's performance.

"It was pretty safe skiing. I think she wanted to get the first race under the belt, all the new gear and everything," he said. "I think she did that quite well, but she definitely had more in the tank."

Vonn is heading to Vail for 10 days of training before the World Cup circuit resumes in Finland with men's and women's slaloms.


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