By OLIVER GRASSMAN, Associated Press
ARE, Sweden (AP) — Lindsey Vonn is back at the summit of Alpine skiing, and standing alone as the most successful American skier.
Vonn punctuated her near-perfect season in perfect fashion Friday, earning her fourth overall World Cup title with a dominating giant slalom victory. That puts her in a league of her own among American skiers, man or woman, and she still has another week to chase the World Cup record for points in a season.
"I'm just really excited. I'm thrilled. It's crazy," Vonn said after surpassing Phil Mahre's American record of three overall titles on the men's side between 1981-83.
She is now second on the women's list behind Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria, who won six in the 1970s. Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg is the only man to have won more than Vonn, with five titles.
A year after losing the overall title by just three points to main rival Maria Hoefl-Riesch on the last day of the season, Vonn left no doubt about her supremacy this time — winning by nearly half a second to wrap up the overall title even before next week's World Cup finals.
"It is a lot less stressful clinching the overall title before the finals," Vonn said. "Last year, I think I lost years off of my life. It's been an amazing season, one where I've had a lot of fun and enjoyed every race. I've found my rhythm in GS for the first time in my career."
Indeed, Vonn had never won a race in the discipline before taking the opening giant slalom of the season. That made her just the fifth woman to win World Cup races in five disciplines, and took away the only weakness in her repertoire. Given that she is as dominant as ever in the speed disciplines, it also made her nearly unbeatable in the race for the giant crystal globe that comes with the overall title.
Friday's victory gave her an insurmountable 1,808 points with five individual races left this season. With 100 points for each victory, that gives Vonn a good chance of breaking the record of 2,000 points set by Austrian great Hermann Maier in 2000. Janica Kostelic of Croatia holds the women's record of 1,970 points from 2006.
After Saturday's slalom in Are, there are four races plus a team event at the World Cup finals in Schladming, Austria.
"Anything is possible, but it's going to be really difficult," Vonn said about the overall points record. "I'm going to have to execute in every race and seize the opportunity like I did today. I've got three big chances to make the top three in the downhill, super-G and the GS (in Schladming). But I'm going to have to execute and make no mistakes."
Federica Brignone of Italy was second on Friday, 0.48 behind, with Olympic champion Viktoria Rebensburg in third, 1.05 slower than Vonn.
It was Vonn's 52nd career World Cup race victory — and second in GS.
"I always felt Are was a good place for me in the GS. I got a lot of confidence from Ofterschwang and felt like I had nothing to lose," she said, referring to her second place last weekend in the German resort. "This season has been great in every single way."
Alex Hoedlmoser, the U.S. women's head coach, said Vonn's improvement in GS has been remarkable.
"This GS win is absolutely huge," Hoedlmoser said. "I'm just thinking back two years when she was not even considered for making the top 10."
Vonn won the overall three times in a row from 2008-2010. Last season, Hoefl-Riesch took the overall when the giant slalom at the World Cup finals was canceled because of soft snow.
Rebensburg looks set to secure the giant slalom title at the finals in Schladming. She leads the discipline with 550 points, 95 ahead of Vonn in second place.
"I had a good day and skied pretty clean, even though my second run wasn't my best," said Rebensburg, who won back-to-back giant slalom wins in Ofterschwang last weekend. "I heard from the coaches (ahead of the second run) that it was not easy to ski well, so I tried to ski without mistakes."
For all her improvements in GS, Vonn doesn't think she can overtake the German for the discipline title next week.
"It's wrapped up," Vonn said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.