Alpine Skier Lindsey Vonn shines bright in Vancouver

The build-up to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games saw the focus fall upon one athlete more than any other, and, unusually, that particular athlete was not competing for the host country.

There was not a day that passed without the international media running story after story about US skier Lindsey Vonn, who was tipped to become the next superstar of winter sports. One day she was reported to be injured, the next she was said to be training brilliantly. Yet one thing was clear beyond all doubt: she was destined to play a significant role in the outcome of the 2010 Olympic downhill competition.

Vonn was no newcomer to the Games. She had made her Olympic debut eight years before when, as a 17-year-old, she came sixth in the combined.

Four years later in Turin, Vonn competed in four events but again missed out on the medals. Badly hampered by the accident she suffered in her second training run for the downhill, which led to her being airlifted to hospital, her best result was seventh in the super-G.

In the years following Turin, her talent blossomed. In 2008, she became only the second American woman to win the overall World Cup title, a victory she repeated in 2009. More triumphs would follow, as well as a few more crashes and injuries, not that they prevented her from heading to Vancouver 2010 as unquestionably the biggest star in women’s skiing.

Vonn had planned to compete in all five events in Vancouver, but doubt was cast over that plan when she injured her shin in training. Unseasonably warm weather came to her aid, however, causing poor snow conditions and delays in the race schedule, giving her extra recovery time.

Vonn went fastest on the one and only training run on the testing Franz’s Run course, confirming her status as favourite.

Almost inevitably there was an unexpected twist. Her compatriot and old friend Julia Mancuso, who had not been expected to do well, delivered a superb run from 10th to take the lead by nearly a second from Elisabeth Görgl. With the world watching and still in pain from her lingering injury, Vonn was under enormous pressure to come up with something special.

She took it all in her stride. Producing a run that contained just the one slight error, which she quickly corrected, she crossed the line more than half a second clear of Mancuso, while Görgl held on to take third, exactly 50 years after her mother Traudl Hecher had won bronze in Squaw Valley.

Vonn went on to land bronze in the super-G, only to suffer yet another injury when she broke a finger in the giant slalom. There was nothing, however, that could take the shine off her stunning downhill triumph, one that had come against the odds.


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