January 3, 2018 / 1:03 PM / a year ago

Olympics-Alpine skiing-Gut battling for full fitness after knee injury

ST MORITZ, Switzerland, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Widely seen as Switzerland's great hope for a skiing gold at the 2018 Games, Lara Gut is still struggling to regain race fitness after suffering a knee injury a year ago.

The 26-year-old, who in 2016 became the first Swiss woman to win the overall World Cup since Vreni Schneider in 1995, made a quicker than expected return from surgery when she raced at Soelden at the end of October.

But she admitted recently that her race-winning instincts have yet to return and she has managed only one podium finish, a second place in the Super G at Lake Louise.

"The good turns don't come as automatically and naturally as they did before," she said after finishing fourth in a Super G at Val d'Isere last month.

Gut, a specialist in the speed events, has already suffered Olympic frustration when she was forced to miss the Vancouver Games in 2010 due to a slow recovery from a dislocated hip.

She reached Sochi four years later in peak condition but had to be content with a bronze in the downhill, won jointly by Tina Maze of Slovenia and Gut's compatriot Dominique Gisin, and was fourth in the Super G.

Gold medals have also eluded her at the world championships where she has won three silvers and two bronze.

Born in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, Gut was coached from the start of her career by her father Pauli.

She took part in her first World Cup race at Lienz in December 2007 and finished on the podium in her first World Cup downhill at St Moritz two months later.

The first of her 23 World Cup wins also came at St Moritz the following December when she won the Super G.

After winning silver medals in the Super G and combined events at the 2009 world championships in Val d'Isere, she missed the whole of the 2009/10 season through injury.

Her career really began to blossom in 2013/14 when she won seven World Cup races, followed by two the following season and six in 2015/16, the year she took the overall title.

Her dreams of a gold at last year's world championships in St Moritz -- previously a happy hunting-ground -- were shattered when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament while training for the slalom part of the combined event.

But Gut said the recovery gave her some much-needed time for reflection.

"I learned the importance of being at peace with oneself during those six months," she said before her comeback race at Soelden.

"It's always been my greatest challenge finding a balance between what I have to do and what is good for me."

"I devoted too much time for Lara the athlete and I forgot about Lara the person." (Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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