KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - Lindsey Vonn is in an Olympic frame of mind.
While she didn't win over the weekend, she came away from the official test event for the 2014 Games with two World Cup titles and plenty of reasons to be encouraged about the Rosa Khutor course that will be used in Sochi.
"This is the beginning - getting this track dialed in my mind - and finally getting a chance to see the course, so I'm finally really excited for the Olympics," Vonn told The Associated Press. "I've always been excited for the Olympics, but it's different when you have nothing to visualize. Now I've been here and I know the track and I can just play it over in my mind - over and over again - for two years."
From left, Elisabeth Goergl, Maria Riesch and Lindsey Vonn pose on the podium after Saturday’s downhill competition in Sochi. The third-place finish locked up Vonn’s fifth World Cup downhill title.
(Photo — Doug Haney/U.S. Ski Team)
"That was the main goal for me, just to see what Sochi was all about, all the terrain, and really get a handle in my mind of what the course is going to be like for the Olympics," she added. "And I definitely feel like I accomplished that."
After dominating both training sessions, Vonn finished third in Saturday's downhill, a result she partly attributed to a poor choice of skis.
"It doesn't mean anything for the Olympics," Vonn said. "I'm really comfortable on this track. I'm really, really excited about it and I'm sure my skis will be rockets for the Olympics."
Sunday's super-combined was canceled because of heavy snowfall, and racers were also denied one training session because of bad weather.
"It's disappointing but it's ski racing," Vonn said Sunday. "For the Olympics, they're going to have more time to play with, more time to prepare the course, and if the snow is like it is today they have another day or two or three to make sure it's in good condition."
Vonn won the downhill at the 2010 Vancouver Games, her victory coming after only one training run because of an extended stretch of rain, snow and sleet. If this test event was any indication, the Sochi Games could also be affected by humidity, with the newly built Alpine resorts just a half-hour drive from the Black Sea.
Vonn will again be burdened by big expectations come the Olympics, although she is a bit wiser now.
"It doesn't really get any more pressure than what I had at the Olympics in 2010, so I feel like no matter what the pressure is I can handle it," Vonn said. "There is pressure, but it's just another race and you have to mentally think about it that way. And you have to perform and you have to ski well and it doesn't matter what day it is and what the weather is, you just have to ski."
While the downhill went according to plan, the remainder of the 2010 Games was mostly a misadventure for Vonn as she struggled with a bruised shin. She gave away a lead after falling in the slalom leg of the super-combined, then got only a bronze in the super-G, crashed and broke her right pinkie in the opening run of the giant slalom and straddled a gate in the first slalom leg.
While 2014 is still two years away, Vonn already has a clear idea of where she'd like to improve.
"I would love to do better in the super-G," she said. "I skied well in the super-combined (but) straddled a gate halfway down, so I would love to get a medal in that. So there's definitely a lot of things I would love to do better."
In Vancouver, Vonn stayed outside the Olympic village in a setup provided by her sponsor, and that's what she's planning for 2014.
"I probably won't stay in the village," Vonn said. "I did that in Torino and I didn't really like that that much. I liked it in Salt Lake, but I stayed there after I competed."
"I really like the way we had it set up with Red Bull in Vancouver - we had our own little condo kind of away from everything," Vonn added. "I like being really chill and by myself and I'll probably do something similar to that, but I have to check out the lay of the land and see what accommodations are available here in Russia."
All the U.S. skiers stayed outside the village in Whistler, and the team hoping for a similar setup in 2014.
"It's also nice to have your own space, have a cook from America doing the food for us," said Julia Mancuso, a gold medalist in giant slalom at the 2006 Turin Games and a winner of two silver medals in Vancouver. "I find that more relaxing than staying in the village, but I've never stayed in the village."
But should Vonn - one of the Olympics' leading athletes and recently an ambassador for the first Winter Youth Olympics - stay in the village to set an example?
"That doesn't matter," U.S. head coach Alex Hoedlmoser said. "Because all we want is to win that gold medal, and if that takes staying somewhere else, we're going to do it."