Lindsey Vonn takes bronze in super-G after skiing conservatively; Andrea Fischbacher wins gold

Enjoy an up close and personal look at the action in Canada.
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 21, 2010

WHISTLER, B.C. -- The assumption for Lindsey Vonn is that if she delivers her best ski race, she will win. She is that talented, that confident in her abilities, and she has the evidence to back it up: 31 victories on the World Cup circuit, the gold medal in the women's downhill at these Vancouver Olympics.

The evidence suggests, too, that occasionally something less than Vonn's maximum performance is plenty. There comes, then, a tricky equation. Why subject yourself to a devastating error? Why not hold back?

"Sometimes it seems to me that she doesn't have to take full risk and [go] 100 percent," said her best friend and rival, Germany's Maria Riesch, "and still [she] can win."

The problem: Hold back at the Olympics, and the risk is losing a gold medal. So even after Vonn crossed the finish line in Saturday's super-G race and she celebrated after the scoreboard showed her in first, she knew she had left something on the mountain.

"I think," she said, "I got content."

Thus, the medal she now adds to her collection is bronze -- the seventh Alpine medal for the U.S. here, but not the gold she might have won. Andrea Fischbacher handily beat Vonn with a leave-it-all-out-there run that brought the first Alpine gold of these Olympics for skiing-obsessed Austria. Slovenia's Tina Maze won the silver with a race in which she, too, held nothing back, and Vonn was left toggling between satisfaction in the result and disappointment in her execution.

"I just got a little bit too comfortable with my skiing," Vonn said. "I wasn't pushing myself as hard as I could have, just wasn't clean enough on the skis, just wasn't letting it go as much as I know I can. I just got content, and that's why I'm not on the top step today."

The super-G -- skiing's second-longest, second-fastest discipline behind only downhill -- was contested under constantly changing conditions. American Julia Mancuso, who already has two silver medals here, was the first of 53 competitors to take to the 1.18-mile course, and she did so in almost complete shade. That contributed to one big error, and though her time held up for another 10 racers, she figured she would be easily overtaken.

"I really felt like there was a better run to be had," Mancuso said.

But a number of things started happening. First came the question of whether much of the field would even be able to complete the race. Five skiers before Vonn crashed or missed a gate, and by the end of the day, 15 racers failed to finish. Then, as the 10 a.m. start time fell further into the past, the sun began to peak over the trees, bathing the middle section of the course in light, softening that section.

All of this informed how Vonn would ski.

"The game plan was not [to ski at] 90 percent this morning," said Thomas Vonn, Lindsey's husband who serves as coach and chief strategist. "It was, 'You have to attack. You have to go.' And it kind of changed a little bit when we saw the carnage that was going on."

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