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Lindsey Vonn claims fifth straight downhill title

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Lindsey Vonn clinched her fifth consecutive World Cup downhill title Saturday after placing third in a race on the 2014 Sochi Olympics course won by German rival and friend Maria Hoefl-Riesch.

Hoefl-Riesch clocked 1 minute, 49.17 seconds down the Rosa Khutor slope for her second victory this season and first in downhill. She beat Elisabeth Goergl of Austria by 0.43 seconds and Vonn by 0.59.

With two downhills remaining this season and wins worth 100 points each, Vonn holds an unassailable 231-point lead over Hoefl-Riesch in the discipline standings.

"Downhill is my favorite event and it's always nice to wrap up a title before the end of the season, before the last races," Vonn said. "It puts a little less pressure on me."

Hoefl-Riesch also had a win in the test event for the 2010 Vancouver Games.

"It's really important," the German said. "In Whistler, two years before the Olympics I won the super-combined and I (did well) in the downhill and I won two gold medals two years later. But it's never a guarantee, it's just good to know you can be fast on a special track where a big event takes place."

Vonn has an even bigger lead in the overall standings, where she is 448 points ahead of Slovenia's Tina Maze and 486 points in front of Hoefl-Riesch, who ended Vonn's run of three consecutive overall titles last season.

The start of the race was delayed by 15 minutes as organizers cleared overnight snowfall off the course, and there were a few more delays once it started due to clouds moving over the course, limiting visibility.

Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein finished fourth, Marion Rolland of France was fifth and Julia Mancuso of the United States was sixth.

Also, Stacey Cook finished ninth and Alice McKennis was 10th as the U.S. Ski Team placed four racers in the top 10 for one of its best overall results.

Nadja Kamer of Switzerland and Lotte Smiseth Sejersted of Norway crashed, but both appeared to avoid serious injury.

As for the men's races last week, the stands were only half full, although those that were in attendance were enthusiastic, singing and cheering on each finisher.

Vonn started after a TV break and executed well on the upper portion of the course but lost some time on the bottom, and her lead only lasted slightly more than a minute because Hoefl-Riesch skied next and was faster than Vonn at each checkpoint.

"I may have been a little cautious on the top, because the coaches were saying outside the track was really soft, so I tried to stay a little bit above the line but I think maybe that wasn't the fastest line," Vonn said.

Upon seeing her result, Hoefl-Riesch dropped down on her back in the snow and pumped her arms and kicked her feet to celebrate. A bit later, Goergl knocked Vonn down to third.

"When I crossed the finish line I just saw the board far away and couldn't read (it)," Hoefl-Riesch said. "I just saw the green light and then I came closer and I wanted to be sure that it was really me standing on the top and I couldn't believe it."

Vonn complained about course workers painting blue dye on the slope immediately before her run, and also questioned her equipment.

"I've gone on the same race skis all season and we decided to go on a different pair today and I think maybe that was the wrong choice," the American said. "I think my normal race boards are probably a little bit faster. But it's already passed, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

The season's final super-combined is scheduled for Sunday, with Vonn in position to clinch another title. She is 55 points in front of Tina Maze of Slovenia and 60 points ahead of Nicole Hosp of Austria.

"Tomorrow is going to be intense," Vonn said.

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