WHISTLER, B.C. — On the biggest day of her life, Lindsey Vonn told her husband to go away.
And that was a good thing.
When Vonn, currently the top female ski racer in the world, is particularly nervous before a big race, her husband Thomas, a former Olympic ski racer himself, is at the start to help settle her nerves.
But on the brink of the women’s downhill at Whistler, Vonn’s first race of the 2010 Olympics, she went off script from the plan made a night before and told Thomas to watch from the bottom.
Despite coming into these Olympics as the face of Team U.S.A, and despite a severe shin bruise that she had only tested once in the past two weeks, Vonn quieted her nerves, told Thomas she was good to go, and got back to dominating her sport with a gold medal performance.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am,” said Vonn, who spent the better part of the afternoon alternating between tears of joy and ear-to-ear grins. “I was pretty much bawling for the last two hours straight, which is not typical for me, but it felt good. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. There were a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure coming into these games, and I stood up to that and I fought back today, and I think I proved to everyone that I’m a good skier, and that’s what I came here to do.”
A good skier? Please. Vonn didn’t need an Olympic gold to prove that to anyone. With 31 career World Cup wins, two World Cup overall titles — a third is likely coming later this year — and two World Championship wins, Vonn would be in the discussion when it came to naming the best ski racer, regardless of gender, in U.S. history even if she never won an Olympic medal.
But she still needed this win.
Ever since she watched Picabo Street win a silver medal in 1994, Vonn dreamed of this day. She would have been a medal contender in Torino four years ago, but suffered a nasty crash in downhill training, and was nowhere near 100 percent when it came time to race. Heading into these Olympic Games, Vonn was the two-time defending World Cup overall champ, and a favorite to win multiple medals, but a shin contusion suffered in training on Feb. 2 put those medal hopes in doubt.
Suddenly Vonn was questioning if, despite all of her success, an Olympic medal just wasn’t meant to be.
“Yeah, I did wonder that,” she said. “This happened to me before with the World Championships. Everyone would say, ‘Well, you’ve won World Cups, but you never seem to be able to win the World Championships.’ Then last year I won the World Championships and thought, ‘OK, I can do this.’ But with all the injuries that I’ve had this season, I felt like things weren’t going my way … With the shin injury, kind of the walls came tumbling down. I was really depressed and sad and was hoping that my Olympic dream was still alive.”
Her Olympic dream was alive and well Wednesday, and Vonn has now filled the one big hole on an otherwise unimpeachable resume.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said Vonn, the first American woman to win Olympic gold in the downhill. “This is the best day of my life, by far.”
And not only did Vonn win Wednesday, she did so in a fashion rarely seen in this sport.
Vonn’s margin of victory over U.S. teammate and silver medalist Julia Mancuso was .56 seconds, a lifetime in downhill. Even more staggering was the fact that the bronze medalist, Elisabeth Goergl, was another .90 behind Mancuso. Only four skiers in the field managed to finish within two seconds of Vonn, who finished the Franz’s Downhill course in 1 minute, 44.19 seconds.
“It’s amazing,” said Canadian Emily Brydon, who finished 16th. “She’s superhuman in a sense.”
Now that Vonn has tossed the Olympic gorilla off of her back — she might have kicked it to, but there’s that shin to worry about — she can have fun the rest of the Olympics and ski without pressure, which can only mean trouble for her competition in the remaining four alpine events, starting with today’s super combined.
“A huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders now,” she said. “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. I’m just happy with one, anything else from here on out is a bonus. I’m going to go home happy no matter what else happens for the rest of the games.”
And Thomas will be able to enjoy the rest of those games as a husband and spectator at the bottom the course.
“Her whole career, and especially since Torino, has all been done for this moment right here,” said a brimming-with-pride Thomas Vonn. “Her whole life’s focus has been for this day.”
And what a day it was.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com. For more Olympics coverage, go to heraldnet.com/olympics