ST. MORITZ, Switzerland — Lindsey Vonn’s rivalry with World Cup leader Tina Maze heated up and threatened to boil over Saturday, when the Slovenian’s coaches accused the American defending champion of hurling an insulting expletive after winning a super-G.
Vonn edged Maze to remain perfect in four speed races this season, then was shocked to find herself in a fight she hadn’t intended and didn’t want.
In venting her emotions on crossing the line, and realizing she had taken the lead from main challenger Maze, Vonn acknowledged she used a curse word as an expression of relief.
Still, the Slovenian team — which targeted a three-race weekend sweep for Maze after her win in Friday’s super-combined — surprised most observers by alleging Vonn deliberately aimed an insult, and filed an official protest for “unsportsmanlike behavior."
“They think I said something very bad about her when I came to the finish and that is absolutely not true," a clearly stunned Vonn said minutes after being told of the allegation. “It definitely hurts. I would never say anything bad about another athlete at the finish."
Vonn accepted that she had sworn — “and I shouldn’t have done that" — but insisted it was a reaction to skiing poorly and failing to finish Friday, knowing she is still short of full fitness after a recent illness.
“I’m struggling with my strength," the four-time World Cup champion said, insisting she was at her limits on Saturday. “I came down (the slope) with everything I have."
Vonn’s version was soon backed by World Cup women’s race director Atle Skaardal, who joined United States and Slovenia team coaches to study television footage of her post-race reactions.
“We could not find any abuse whatsoever and the protest was, of course, rejected," Skaardal said later at a scheduled meeting of national team coaches.
Skaardal criticized the Slovenia team’s actions in originally demanding to see broadcasters’ film, though without naming Andrea Massi, Maze’s trainer and boyfriend.
“We had officials going into the television buses which is, of course, a very critical behavior and in no way acceptable," Skaardal said at the meeting, which Massi did not attend. “I ask you to behave in a proper manner."
Massi declined to discuss details of the afternoon’s drama with The Associated Press.
“I made the protest, I don’t have any other comment," Massi said after the traditional evening prize-giving ceremony in the town center, where Vonn and Maze hugged on the podium with no trace of tension.
Vonn won in 1 minute, 2.71 seconds, 0.37 seconds faster than Maze and 1.01 ahead of Julia Mancuso of the U.S. in third. Bend’s Laurenne Ross, finished in 17th place in 1:04.74.
Vonn’s 57th career World Cup win, the second most in history, was her 20th in super-G. She is the four-time defending champion in the discipline.
Vonn and Maze have combined to win seven of the nine World Cup events. Maze has a 163-point lead overall over 2011 champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who placed fifth on Saturday. Vonn was third overall.