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Amateur sportsRacing rivals, alpine allies

Posted: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 | 11:06 AM

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Lindsey Vonn's major rival, Maria Riesch of Germany, screams down the Lake Louise downhill course to beat her by ten hundredths of a second. Had Vonn not slipped during her run, she would have won handily.

"I hate to lose," Vonn says. "But if I have to lose then it might as well be to my best friend."
vonn-riesch-100310-584.jpgLindsey Vonn, left, and Maria Riesch, perhaps the two best women's alpine skiers in the world, don't let their rivalry come between their friendship. (Timm Schamberger/AFP/Getty Images)

Sometimes it's hard to separate sport from entertainment.

When does competition end and showmanship begin?

It's hard to decipher.

Until you get to Lake Louise, deep in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, and appreciate what alpine skiers do. You peek out over the pitch of the ice-injected mountain and listen to an Olympic champion coax you down without killing yourself.

"You have the athletic ability," Kerrin Lee-Gartner explains. "The only thing holding you back is fear. Get over it!"

You turn your skis and slip-slide over a treacherous section of the course known as "Fall Away." Remaining in tact, picking up speed, you feel the exhilaration of crossing the finish line at what seems like a hundred miles an hour. In fact, you're moving at a fraction of the speed the real racers do. Lee-Gartner is there at the bottom to offer a high five.  

"Now you have real credibility to talk about this race," she smiles.

Lindsey Vonn, the miraculous competitor from the United States, roars over the crest of the hill. She loses her balance and heads for disaster. Vonn slides onto her hip and careens in a wild skid until somehow she rights herself in the blink of an eye and recovers to take the lead.

Next Vonn's major rival, Maria Riesch of Germany, screams down the downhill course to beat her by ten hundredths of a second. Had Vonn not slipped she would have won handily.

"I hate to lose," Vonn says from behind her mirrored sunglasses. "But if I have to lose then it might as well be to my best friend."

The two embrace and, standing side-by-side, do an interview in German that is broadcast live on Austrian television.

Then at the airport there's the American Julia Mancuso, the third-place finisher in the super-G, lugging the voluminous luggage of Great Britain's Chemmy Alcott. Alcott is in a wheelchair with a broken leg after a horrifying crash in training, which had her airlifted off the mountain at the end of a rope dangling from a helicopter.

The two comrades have fashioned a competitive understanding.

They're off to Europe where the World Cup will continue for all but Alcott, who is done for the season. As they exit you come to understand that what you've witnessed is real sport indeed.

Where there is room for bitter rivals to be best friends.

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