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"V" is for Victory but also for Vonn

Posted: Friday, March 13, 2009 | 11:13 AM

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If you are a fan of World Cup ski racing you might want to check out the final two events of the speed season this weekend from Are, Sweden.

In the men’s downhill you’ll catch a glimpse of an enormous Norwegian talent in Aksel Lund Svindal who has overcome debilitating injury to rise again.

More significantly, in the women’s super-G, you’ll be on board with Lindsey Vonn of the United States – maybe the most talented female racer of all time.

Hear me out.

The anti-Bode

Vonn is barely 24 years of age and already she’s the most prolific American woman in alpine history with 22 World Cup wins and two World championship titles. But it’s the way she does it that makes her special. Vonn is doggedly determined - full of flair … gracious and willing … single minded. She is, in short, the antithesis of a more celebrated American skier by the name of Bode Miller.

Make no mistake Lindsey Vonn is the real deal.

With two overall World Cup titles under her belt, she has a shot to catch or surpass the totals racked up by the great Anne Marie Moser Proll of Austria or Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider. Vonn skis every race as if it was her last and leaves nothing on the hill when she reaches the finish line. More often than not, she breaks the tape with the lead and she has the ability to do it in each of alpine’s four disciplines.

Beyond that, Lindsey Vonn is far from being the brash, ugly, American that Miller has typified throughout his volatile and inconsistent career. Vonn is the polar opposite – proud of skiing for the “Stars and Stripes” and universally admired for her acceptance of the unique culture of skiing.

Speaks the language of skiing

Heck, she even does post-race interviews in fluent German, having taught herself the language in the last year because she decided she wanted to be a champion and speak to the most ardent ski fans. And in Austria, where skiing is a national obsession akin to hockey in this country, the language of skiing is German.

But don’t be fooled. This would-be diplomat is really an attractive, alpine assassin.

While Lindsey Vonn has taken great pains to endear herself to the sport’s influential fan base, she is fiercely competitive and not intimidated by the likes of legendary Austrian skiers like Michaela Dorfmeister, Renate Goetschl or Alexandra Meissznitzer. In fact, at the outset this season Lindsey Vonn showed up promptly and unaccompanied for a rambling sit-down interview with us at Lake Louise and spoke from the heart.

“You can’t intimidate me, I’m pretty tough,” she smiled sweetly. “I’m an adrenaline junkie and I love going 80 miles an hour. This year I think we’re going to start kicking some Austrian butt!”

Vonn promptly went out and won the downhill in the Canadian Rockies, an event she has dominated since arriving on the circuit, and has never looked back. All the while, she has never failed to stop for an interview or begged off because of a bad day on the hill or even an injury.

It’s hard to believe, but after she badly cut her thumb and damaged a tendon while opening a champagne bottle on the victory stand at the world championships, she continued to race and - not surprisingly - continued to win.

Missing one prize

The one thing Lindsey Vonn doesn’t have yet is an Olympic championship.

She was a favourite for the downhill title at the 2006 Torino Games, but she fell in training and got pretty banged up. Characteristically, she raced the next day, finishing eighth but promising to be better in four years time.

“I have to believe everything happens for a reason,” Vonn reflected on the disappointment. “And I have to believe that Vancouver and 2010 is the time for me.”

Being nervous, they say, can make an athlete perform to his or her greatest potential. Lindsey Vonn races nervous all the time. After winning the super-G at the World Cup final in Sweden she acknowledged what it is that makes her great.

“I know now that I can win even though I have nerves,” she admitted. “And I know that the Olympics will be more nerve wracking than ever before.”

She is a wonder to watch.

It’s no coincidence that Lindsey Vonn’s name has become synonymous with victory in World Cup alpine skiing.

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