Lindsey Vonn lived up to the hype in dominating fashion. America's Winter Olympic sweetheart skied a flawless race in the women's downhill Wednesday at Whistler, earning a much-anticipated gold medal and bolstering her reputation as the world's preeminent skier.
The 25-year-old was the subject of media scrutiny before the Games. She appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, was endlessly hyped by Olympic broadcaster NBC and kept herself in the news during weather-related delays with talk of a new shin injury. That ailment, plus the pressures of becoming the "it" athlete of Vancouver, led to speculation that Vonn may not have been at her best headed into the marquee race on the Alpine skiing schedule. She wasn't. She was better than that.
On one of the toughest downhill courses in Olympic history, Vonn skied with ease. While other top competitors approached every turn with caution and seemed barely to keep their balance, the two-time World Cup champion skied as if she were on an intermediate run in the Appalachians. As do all the greats, she made the impossible look easy. A brief slide on one of Vonn's final turns was the only indication her course was treacherous.
She collapsed to the ground in celebration after her breathtaking 1:44.19 put her ahead of teammate Julia Mancuso. Though there were still 29 competitors left to ski, Vonn's smile was that of someone who saw gold in her future. It didn't become official for 90 minutes more, but since the top competitors were all drawn into early positions, the medal spots were basically decided when Germany's Maria Riesch crossed the line more than two seconds behind Vonn's time. Two seconds in downhill skiing is an eternity. And Riesch, who is Vonn's best friend, is considered the second-best skier in the world.
The course at Whistler is said to be the most difficult women have ever skied in the Olympics. Medal favorite Anja Paerson fell on the final jump. Eight other skiers didn't finish either. But Vonn was perfect.
She has four more races left in Vancouver and is the favorite in two of them. No matter what happens in those, Lindsey Vonn's Olympics can be considered a success. Another gold and they become legendary.
Maybe we didn't hype her enough.
- Lindsey Vonn