Vonn backs off, settles for bronze in super-G

Lindsey Vonn never got the message.

Right before Vonn left the starting gate in Saturday’s Olympic

super-G, her husband-coach-adviser, Thomas, tried to radio her with

a suggestion to change tactics.

That’s because several minutes earlier, when five of the first

11 skiers crashed on a shade-filled course the Vonns already

suspected was designed specifically to trouble Lindsey, they agreed

it would make sense to ease up a bit.

But when the racer right before Vonn made the morning’s first

truly clean run as the sun began to peek out from behind the

mountain, Thomas realized his wife needed to charge all the way

down. It was too late. She slowed and finished third behind

Austria’s Andrea Fischbacher and Slovenia’s Tina Maze, adding the

super-G bronze to her downhill gold at these Winter Games.

Vonn was convinced she could have – should have, really – won a

second gold.

“Once I passed the tricky sections, I think I let off the gas

pedal a little bit. I just didn’t continue with that aggression all

the way to the finish,” the two-time World Cup overall champion

said. “That’s where I lost the race.”

Fischbacher turned in what pretty much everyone was calling the

run of her life, in 1 minute, 20.14 seconds. Maze (it’s pronounced

MAH-zeh) was 0.49 slower and earned Slovenia’s first silver in any

sport at a Winter Olympics, while Vonn was 0.74 behind the champion

for a record seventh U.S. Alpine medal here.

She had no problem navigating a sharp right turn about midway

through, but then gave away nearly half a second on the bottom

section.

“I wasn’t pushing myself as hard as I could have,” Vonn

explained, adding that her bruised right shin was sore but didn’t

hamper her. “I just got content, and that’s why I’m not on the top

step today.”

Teammates and competitors agreed. Among those who called Vonn’s

run “conservative” were Julia Mancuso, the American who already

has two silvers at Whistler but was ninth Saturday, and Maria

Riesch, the German who is Vonn’s close friend and was eighth in the

super-G after winning the super-combined Friday.

Maze offered another perspective: “She’s human, too.”

Thomas Vonn suggested something else was afoot.

The course was set by a coach from Fischbacher’s team – the

International Ski Federation holds a random draw that gives

countries with more top skiers a better chance of being picked –

and Vonn’s husband said he heard the Austrians’ aim was to design

something particularly tough on the American.

“People are always going to search for a way to knock you

down,” Thomas Vonn said. “They’re going to look for that little

piece of kryptonite.”

Austrian coach Juergen Kriechbaum, who set the super-G course,

called the accusation “stupid.”

“Maybe he’s not happy,” Kriechbaum told The Associated Press,

“but that’s not my problem. The more difficult the course, the

more it should favor the best skiers.”

That clearly includes Vonn.

Her 31 career World Cup victories are the most by a U.S. woman,

she won the downhill and super-G world titles a year ago, and she

was more than a half-second fastest in the Olympic downhill

Wednesday.

“She’s always first in World Cup, and she’s always leading,”

Maze said, “and it’s kind of annoying to be at the start, knowing

she’ll probably be first.”

Which is why Vonn arrived in Canada on everyone’s mind, a main

part of NBC’s promotion of the Olympics and considered a candidate

to bring home several medals, including two or three golds.

She was supposed to be Vancouver’s answer to Beijing’s Michael

Phelps. On Saturday, Vonn referred to that as “hype” that she

“never really bought into.”

Her husband said she was down in the dumps after hooking a gate

and failing to finish the second leg of Thursday’s super-combined,

a race she led after the first leg. Not only no gold – no medal at

all. But he reminded her that she already owned a gold and should

be pleased with that.

“It’s all icing now,” said Vonn’s mom, Linda Krohn.

So if Vonn was disappointed with Saturday’s result, she refused

to let it show. She said she was as proud of her bronze as her gold

and noted that the two shades almost look alike.

Actually, that bronze barely was hers. The 30th skier down the

slope, Johanna Schnarf of Italy, nearly bumped Vonn off the podium

but ended up 0.11 behind for fourth place.

“It’s tough when you come into an Olympics, and people

basically hung medals around your neck,” Thomas Vonn said, “and

they’re like, ‘Now go ski and earn ’em.’ That’s a tough thing to

deal with.”

His wife probably will take Sunday off to rest the shin she hurt

in pre-Olympic training Feb. 2. She plans to race in Wednesday’s

giant slalom and Friday’s slalom, the last two women’s events.

“The five-gold-medal Phelps comparison was never realistic. …

It’d be like winning the lottery and (saying), ‘Yes, I knew I was

going to win the $40 million jackpot.’ That’s just not how it

happens,” Thomas Vonn said. “She’s certainly capable of getting

podiums in those events. But her chances are definitely diminished

when she hasn’t had any training, and it’s been all about just

trying to put Band-Aids on it to get these races through.”

For Fischbacher, meanwhile, this was her first gold at an

Olympics or world championships, although she did earn the super-G

bronze at the 2009 worlds. When she crossed the finish line, two

racers after Vonn, she looked up at the scoreboard to see her

placement and was literally blown away, stumbling backward into the

padding around the finish area and nearly tumbling over.

Fischbacher narrowly missed out on a medal in the downhill,

finishing 0.03 out of third place. She cried that day and, as she

described it, “I had anger in the stomach.”

To make amends, she decided, it would be necessary to put

together a “crazy run” in the super-G.

“I was ready,” Fischbacher said, “to push myself to attack

from start to finish.”

Vonn wished she’d done the same.