Lindsey Vonn — one of the greatest skiers America has produced — is about to compete in what she expects to be her final Olympics downhill race.
The story of a great champion mourning the death of her beloved grandfather as she pursues one last hurrah in what might be her best chance for a final gold medal is the sort that might stir American fans, a plot swathed in red, white and blue. But Vonn has been a political lightning rod at these Olympics, beginning with comments she made in December during the run up to the PyeongChang Games.
“I hope to represent the people of the United States, not the president,” Vonn told CNN then. “I take the Olympics very seriously and what they mean and what they represent, what walking under our flag means in the opening ceremony. I want to represent our country well. I don’t think that there are a lot of people currently in our government that do that.”
Nor, she said, would she visit President Trump’s White House if she were invited.
And so when she failed to medal in super-G last week, at least a portion of the social-media response was swift and stern. Critics suggested there were karmic implications in her performance, celebrated her disappointing sixth-place finish and questioned her patriotism in blunt terms.
As the comments grew more pointed, a clearly disgusted Julie Foudy — the former U.S. soccer star — stood up for Vonn, pointing out that politics shouldn’t be a reason to root for someone to fail. Vonn, though, didn’t need backup.
“It’s okay, Julie. Not everyone has to like me but my family loves me and I sleep well at night,” the 33-year-old skier tweeted to Foudy. “I work hard and try to be the best person I can be. If they don’t like me their loss I guess… Thank you for the support.”
On Sunday, she called out the Internet “bullies” and said she remained unfazed.
“That is what bullies want you to do. They want to defeat you and I am not defeated, I am the same,” Vonn told reporters. “I stand by my values and I am not going to back down. I may not be as vocal right now with my opinions but that doesn’t mean they have won. I haven’t changed my mind.’
Her final Olympic downhill competition is likely to generate more of the same response, not that she’ll be able to hear it on the slope.
“I’m trying to enjoy the moment,” she tweeted Tuesday morning, “and I am thankful to share this race with such amazing teammates. I know everyone expects a lot from me and I expect even more of myself….however there’s only one thing I can guarantee; I will give everything I have … Count on it.”
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