Five days after slicing the flexor tendon in her right thumb, four days after surgery to repair the injury, Lindsey Vonn was racing the event that could cause her the most pain. But what hurt the most was the result.
After finishing second in the first run of the world championship slalom Saturday in Val d'Isere, France, the 24-year-old Minnesotan lost an edge and fell early in the second run.
She still leaves the worlds as the sport's speed queen, having won the downhill and Super-G, which will make her one of the most publicized athletes in the months leading up to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
"All in all, I'm really happy with the way worlds went," she said. "I was able to win at a big event, which was a goal of mine for a long time. I definitely feel I'm on the right track for Vancouver."
Vonn's close friend, Maria Riesch of Germany, put together a stunning second slalom run to win her first world title. Sarka Zahrobska of the Czech Republic finished second and Tanja Poutiainen of Finland was third.
"I'm really happy for Maria, but I would have loved to be on the podium with her," Vonn said. "Even though I'm in pain, I still want to go out and try to win. At least I know I gave it my best shot."
She couldn't push out of the start house the way she wanted, and it took her a few gates on the first run to figure out how to hit the gates differently with her pole so the hand didn't hurt. Once that was over, Vonn could concentrate on the course, but the steep slope got the better of her in the second run.
"It was hurting, and then I crashed, and now it's hurting even more," she said.
Vonn had worried that the condition of the thumb she cut opening a champagne bottle Monday could also compromise the rest of her season and her future.
"There was a question of 'Can I ski like I have been?' and I think the answer is yes," Vonn said. "It's just a little bit awkward. All in all, it's not so bad. I have to be mentally tough and not think about my thumb."
Vonn underwent surgery in Innsbruck, Austria, a day after she won the downhill, her second gold medal in the worlds. She also won the Super-G on Feb. 3.
The French newspaper L'Equipe had described Vonn as "untouchable" in Super-G after she beat Frenchwoman Marie Marchand-Arvier for the gold medal.
After skipping Thursday's giant slalom and training Friday, Vonn decided to compete in slalom. She had said her decision would be based on whether she could try to win, not simply "[go] out there to get 15th place."
Vonn knew slalom would be painful because racers frequently whack their hands and poles on gates in the discipline. She raced with a brace on her hand and increased protection on her right glove, including duct tape.
"My hand probably weighs two pounds more because of all the duct tape I have on it," Vonn said.
Now she switches her attention back to the World Cup circuit, on which she is leading the points race in her bid for a second straight overall title. Competition resumes this Saturday with a downhill in Italy.