Focus on Vonn only figures to increase after gold

Focus on Vonn only figures to increase after gold

Published Feb. 18, 2010 3:11 a.m. ET

A camera caught Lindsey Vonn dabbing on makeup minutes after becoming the first American woman to win an Olympic downhill.

Looking up, she realized the scene was being relayed to a giant videoboard near the finish area. She playfully scrunched up her features and said, ``Oh, come on.''

Get ready for plenty of close-ups, Lindsey. The scrutiny is not going away.

That bruised and swollen right shin will continue being analyzed. More medals are anticipated.


Just don't try telling her that.

``I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders,'' Vonn said after Wednesday's victory. ``There was a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure coming into these games, and I stood up to that, and I fought back today.''

There's not much time to enjoy her Olympic breakthrough, though. The super-combined, the second of Vonn's five events, was set for Thursday at a Winter Games that she has been expected to dominate.

``I got the gold medal that I came here to get. And now I'm just going to attack every day, with no regrets and no fear,'' said Vonn, a 25-year-old who lives and trains in Vail, Colo. ``And, I mean, I'm just happy with one. Anything else from here on out is a bonus.''

In other words: Look out, everybody.

Vonn feels pressure-free. Just as important, she proved to herself she can deal with the pain, which was at its most intense when she landed the final jump.

``Now I can ski confidently,'' she said. ``I know I can do it, even with the shin injury.''

With some Lidocaine cream numbing the bothersome bruise, some advice from her husband and a heap of skill and confidence, Vonn set everything aside Wednesday and did what she does better than every other woman in the world: ski fast.

Vonn won the downhill in 1 minute, 44.19 seconds - more than a half-second quicker than anyone else - to collect her first career Olympic medal. She combined with Julia Mancuso to give the United States its first 1-2 finish in an Olympic Alpine event since 1984. Elisabeth Goergl of Austria was third, nearly 1 1/2 seconds behind Vonn.

Thursday's race was postponed last weekend because of too-wet, too-warm weather. Freezing overnight temperatures made the downhill slope especially slick Wednesday, and a series of scary falls prompted organizers to shorten the course and shave down the final jump for future races.

The downhill was interrupted for about a half-hour while Edith Miklos, a 21-year-old Romanian, was airlifted off the course by helicopter and later treated for a knee injury. Five-time Olympic medalist Anja Paerson, one of Vonn's chief rivals, lost control on the last leap, sailing about half a football field before landing on her back, tumbling through a gate and sliding across the red finish line. Miraculously, Paerson was badly bruised but no bones were broken, and she wasn't immediately ruled out for Thursday. Marion Rolland of France stumbled out of the start and tore a ligament in her left knee not 5 seconds into her run, years of work discarded in an instant.

Vonn knows that sort of disappointment all too well. At her second Olympics, four years ago in Italy, she lost control during a downhill training run at more than 50 mph and wound up in the hospital with a battered back. Less than 48 hours later, she was back on skis and finished eighth in the downhill.

She sees that as a pivotal moment, and it preceded her big breakthroughs, including the last two World Cup overall titles and two world championship golds last year.

Vonn was hurt Feb. 2 in Austria, tumbling during a slalom practice session and slamming the top of her ski boot against her right shin. Simply pulling on her boot in her hotel room to test the injury's progress became an ordeal, something her husband, Thomas, said she found depressing.

``She's a fighter,'' U.S. Ski Team women's coach Jim Tracy said. ``I knew 100 percent, whether she was going to be sore or not, she was going to be ready to race 100 percent.''

Indeed, Vonn was superior on this day, her ponytail peeking out of her helmet and flapping against her back as she attacked every turn.

``I guess the - what's it called? - the adrenaline of the Olympics will tend to override everything. I think she could have skied without a foot and been OK,'' Thomas Vonn said, a folded U.S. flag tucked under his right elbow. ``She put it out of her mind. She numbed it up real good. She was hurting in warmup, but you get in the starting gate, I think you forget a lot of that stuff.''

If this Olympic medal thing was new to Vonn - she sobbed when it became clear the gold would be hers and kept calling this ``the best day of my life!'' - not so for Mancuso, of Squaw Valley, Calif. Mancuso won the giant slalom at the Turin Olympics, and said Wednesday, her trademark tiara propped atop her hair, ``I've always just known that I would get a medal here.''

If so, it was on faith, not form.

She had failed to produce a top-3 finish since the Olympic test downhill at Whistler two years ago. She hasn't won a World Cup downhill in nearly three years.

``Coming off a back injury last year, I was in a lot of rehab. I knew that I just had to hang on and keep going for it,'' Mancuso said. ``It's really been a tough, long road.''

She was 10th out of the starting gate and took the early lead by going nearly a second faster than Goergl. When Thomas Vonn - a former Olympic skier who serves as a coach and adviser to his wife - saw that, he radioed to Lindsey to tell her she would need to ski aggressively to top Mancuso's performance.

Lindsey's reply to Thomas, essentially: ``I got it.''

Good as she was, she wasn't perfect. Near the bottom, just before going into her final tuck, she hit a bump and briefly appeared to lose her balance, raising her right ski off the snow while steadying herself with her left.

``One of the most clutch runs I've ever seen. She had the weight of the world on her, and people basically hanging the medal around her neck before she went out of the start,'' her husband said. ``That's incredibly hard to deal with.''

Not, apparently, for Vonn.