Skier Lindsey Vonn carries high hopes for U.S. team at Vancouver Olympics

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

When the Vancouver Olympics begin one month from Tuesday, Lindsey Vonn will undoubtedly be the American athlete for whom there are the most hopes. In the coming weeks, her face will appear more often in television ads, and the reminders about who she is -- the two-time overall World Cup champion from Minnesota who skied four years ago under her maiden name, Kildow -- will become more frequent.

And unlike some athletes who deal with Olympic hype over a four-year period between appearances on an international stage, Vonn appears to be dealing with such scrutiny perfectly. Over the weekend, she put behind a wrist injury suffered last month and the reportedly snide remarks of rival coaches about her weight to do three things: Win one World Cup downhill, follow that up with another World Cup downhill victory the next day, then won her first super-giant slalom race of the season a day after that.

That run, just a month away from the Olympics, further asserts Vonn's standing in her sport as a favorite in multiple events in Vancouver. No American, male or female, had ever won three straight World Cup events. The last time a woman of any nationality did so was just more than 12 years ago, when Germany's Katja Seizinger won three consecutive races in Lake Louise, Alberta.

This, Vonn must concede, cements her status as a favorite for multiple medals?

"Honestly, the toughest thing about ski racing is all the variables involved in our sport," Vonn said Monday in a call with reporters. "I haven't given any thought to even the possibility of winning even more than one medal at the Olympics, because it's going to be really, really tough. All along, I've just had the mindset that I just need to ski the best I can on each day. Hopefully, I can execute well on each day, and hopefully I can get a little luck as well."

Vonn's wrist, injured during a crash Dec. 28 in Lienz, Austria, still bothers her in the more technical races, particularly the slalom. But her performance over the weekend in Haus Im Ennstal, Austria, leaves little doubt about her preparation for Vancouver in the speed events. Vonn has now won all four downhill races that have been staged this season. She now not only leads the overall World Cup standings, but the downhill standings, the super-G standings, and the standings in the super combined -- a discipline that combines one slalom run and either a short downhill or a super-G run.

Over the weekend, though, she also had to deal with the comments of Austrian coaches, who reportedly said Vonn had a distinct advantage because of her weight. At 5 feet 10 and 160 pounds, Vonn is a bigger athlete than many of the Austrian women, many of whom are 5-4 and 5-5.

Vonn responded Monday, first in a diary post for the Denver Post, then on the conference call with reporters.

"I think it's just pretty ridiculous," Vonn said. "It definitely irritated me. It definitely gave me a little extra motivation on race day. I think, in all fairness, I think it was exaggerated on part of the journalists. As a woman, I kind of want to drop the subject, if I can.

"To me, I pride myself on my work ethic. I know how hard I work in the gym. I give everything to my sport. I work really hard, and for someone to say I'm overweight is just ridiculous in my mind. . . . You have to be powerful and agile, and if weight were the key to success in ski racing, then everyone would be stuffing their face with food."

With that, she moved on to the things she can control: her performance and her health.

"I hope that all the pieces come together for the race days in Whistler," Vonn said. " . . . I'm hoping my hand will feel better by the time the Olympics come around."

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