"They're Phelpsing me," Lindsey Vonn says of the enormous expectations she faces at the 2010 Winter Olympics. She's, of course, referring to swimmer Michael Phelps, whose quest for Summer Olympic history made him the most talked-about athlete before the Beijing Games in 2008. Vonn is looking to make some history of her own in Vancouver, when she'll attempt to become the most decorated American skier of all-time.
But are the comparisons to Phelps fair? Fourth-Place Medal examines the issue:
Why she'll be the next Phelps:
1. She's the best at what she does -- Phelps was the best swimmer in the world headed into Beijing and Vonn is the best skier in the world headed into Vancouver. She's won back-to-back World Cup championships (and currently leads the standings in 2010), has 31 World Cup individual victories and has two World Championship gold medals. Vonn is the best skier in the world.
2. The hype machine is already in full force -- Every Olympics needs a selling point. It was Tonya/Nancy in '94, Michael Johnson in '96, Ian Thorpe in '00 and Phelps in '08. These are the Vonn Games (or Vonncouver, if you want to get punny with it). While stars can certainly come out of nowhere at Olympics (Tommy Moe, anyone?), one rarely reached transcendent status without the pre-existing hype. Everything Vonn does in Vancouver -- wins, loses, falls, gets hurt, watches a hockey game -- will be big news. She's already a star. All she needs to do is back it up.
3. She looks and acts the part -- Vonn's good looks certainly don't hurt her potential star status. That she gives good interviews and has an affable personality (unlike the aforementioned Mr. Phelps) is only a bonus. I'm not sure what "it" is, but Vonn's got it.
Why she won't be the next Phelps:
1. Skiing is a lot more unpredictable than swimming -- The best swimmer usually wins the race. There were some variables involved in Phelps' quest for eight golds (relays and fatigue being the biggest), but at the end of the day he was almost totally in control of his own destiny. Vonn isn't. Skiing is wildly unpredictable. The best skiers don't always win the race. (Vonn told the New York Times: "I could do everything right in all five races and still not win a medal.") Weather and course conditions change quickly, making the timing of a run of critical importance.
2. The shin injury -- Not much description needed here. If the shin injury negatively affects her skiing, the quest for five is over.
3. Her mindset -- A caveat: I don't know what's going on inside Lindsey Vonn's head, so this is all conjecture, but I'm not sure Vonn is in the best place mentally right now. Something really rubbed me the wrong way about the interview with Matt Lauer yesterday in which she revealed her shin injury. It's mind-boggling to me that a star athlete would voluntarily discuss a new ailment just days before the biggest competition of her life. I'm no shrink, but that just reeks of a move made by someone desperately looking to lower expectations. It's never good to make excuses before a competition. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sports psychologists probably are having a field day with this one.