Even when Lindsey Vonn is not at her best, she's still too good. Vonn skidded hard Saturday on the downhill course at the World Cup stop in Lake Louise, Canada. Anyone else probably would have crashed and gone flying into the nets.
She recovered and not only went on to finish but to win, and by a whopping 52-hundredths of a second.
For the second straight day, American Stacey Cook finished second, another terrific performance. Before this weekend, Cook's best World Cup finish had been a fourth, in 2006, in Lake Louise.
Cook, 28, had been building toward these sorts of results.
She was a member of the 2006 and 2006 Olympic teams, 10th in last-season's downhill standings, fourth in this week's final Lake Louise training run. She said after Friday's second-place run, "I really shut my brain off today -- I know I can ski with these girls. I have been so close for so long, so today I decided it was time. I let my ability take over."
Vonn, after Friday's racing, said of Cook, "I'm so proud of Stacey. She has had the ability to be a podium skier for so long. She really deserved to be there today."
And Saturday, too.
"I hope this is the tip of the iceberg for me," Cook said. "My coaches have told me like for a long time that I'm like fine wine -- that I get better with age.
"This has been a long time coming and I'm just now starting to believe that this is actually happening."
For her part, Vonn was behind Saturday at the first two checkpoints, by 18-hundredths at the first, by 21-hundredths at the second.
By the third, she had worked her way into the lead, up by eight-hundredths.
Then, though -- disaster.
Or what for anyone else would be disaster.
Vonn slipped and got herself turned virtually sideways on the hill.
For an instant, she was on one ski, tottering.
Of course, her momentum and speed were at a standstill.
Cook said, "There was a second there that I actually thought I might win this thing, but Lindsey is amazing. When she made that mistake my heart actually stopped for a second. She’s amazing -- she’s the only athlete that could stop on-course and then still win."
Indeed, Vonn somehow righted herself and aimed straight down the mountain again.
Later, Vonn would say, "I felt like I just hit a few bumps and caught my inside ski and almost went into the fence, then somehow kept going. It was definitely interesting, but I didn't give up. I haven't won with that big of a mistake before."
There were two turns remaining before the flats. Those she turned into flat-out speed.
Numbers don't lie.
At the fourth checkpoint, Vonn was 52-hundredths of a second behind.
By the fifth, she was ahead by a tenth of a second.
In between, there's a radar gun that measures how fast each skier goes. Vonn was clocked at 135.6 kilometers per hour, or 84.2 mph.
At the finish, Vonn was 52-hundredths ahead of Cook.
So -- from the fourth checkpoint to the finish, she made back a full second (and four extra hundredths).
After she crossed the finish line, Vonn shook her head and stuck out her tongue in apparent disbelief.
She said, "Over the last few years I’ve really worked on getting stronger and that helps recover from mistakes like that one. It’s not the way you want to ski, but it helps my confidence to know that I can recover from them."
Vonn has accomplished some outlandish things in Lake Louise both this season, and last. She won Friday's downhill by 1.73 seconds. She won both last season's downhills as well, the first by 1.95 seconds, the second by 1.68.
But to win, when all seemed lost, and by .52-hundredths -- it's yet another chapter in the annals of America's greatest alpine ski racer.
Remember, too: just a little over two weeks ago, Vonn was in a Vail, Colo., hospital, being treated for stomach pains. When she was released, she could barely walk.
The victory Saturday marked Vonn's 55th career World Cup win, tying her with Swiss star Vreni Schneider for second on the women's all-time wins list. Austria's Annemarie Moser-Pröll leads with 62.
It was her 13th Lake Louise victory -- 11th downhill, two super-G -- and sixth straight win on the mountain.
Slovenia's Tina Maze leads the still-young 2012-13 World Cup overall standings with 347 points. Vonn stands fourth, with 210.
The third leg of the three-race Lake Louise series goes off Sunday, a super-G.