GENEVA (AP) — Lara Gut is finally having the standout Olympic season many predicted for her four years ago.
Then, as a precociously talented teenager from Switzerland, an injury prevented Gut from trying to stop Lindsey Vonn from winning downhill gold at the Vancouver Games.
As the Sochi Olympics race into view, the two Alpine speedsters have reversed roles. This time, Gut has collected World Cup wins in three disciplines while Vonn has had to pull out of the games because of injury.
"I've been working so hard to be back," said Gut, who dislocated her right hip in a training crash in September 2009. "I had to build everything again, my body, my skiing skills, my feeling on the snow.
"I think right now, just everything is paying off what happened during the last four years," said the 22-year-old Swiss, whose four wins this season include the tough new downhill in Beaver Creek.
Gut ultimately missed the entire 2010 Olympic season, though only in mid-January of that year did she reluctantly accept she could not compete.
About a month later, Vonn dominated the downhill in Whistler. Only teammate Julia Mancuso finished within 1.4 seconds of the new Olympic champion.
Gut did not even watch on television.
"The day of the downhill was (my) first day back on the snow. It was most important for me to be skiing," Gut said after winning in Beaver Creek in November.
Asked if her recent win on Vonn's home snow was devalued by the American's absence, Gut's response revealed a self-confidence which helps explain her competitive edge on skis. And why she wouldn't win a popularity contest among her peers.
"Nobody asked Lindsey if it was different that I wasn't at the Olympics," said Gut, who speaks five languages fluently. "If you win, nobody cares who was there and who was not."
Gut was airbrushed out of the Vancouver Olympics story, yet several months earlier an American TV crew came to her Italian-speaking home region in advance of the anticipated rivalry with Vonn, a rematch of their 2009 world championship races in Val d'Isere, France.
There, Vonn dug deep to find a gold-medal run in downhill and relegate Gut to silver. Three days earlier, the pair was fastest in the downhill portion of super-combined that saw Gut get another silver as Vonn skied out in the slalom.