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Lindsey Vonn: stunning downhill gold shakes skiing world

Lindsey Vonn wins gold in the women's downhill, and though she (wisely) refuses to buy into the hype around her in these Winter Olympics, she's well poised to make a mark on history.

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“She’s OK,” her coach, Ulf Emilsson, said afterward. But “if you see the crash, it’s amazing that she can actually walk.”

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One of the skiers who followed her crashed through all the safety gates, but one higher up the course and was airlifted off the course because she could not ski down.

In this context, Vonn’s run appeared to come from “another planet,” Threndyle says.

It was not perfect, Vonn acknowledged. But “it is not possible to do a perfect run on this course,” Swiss competitor Nadja Kamer said.

Earlier in the week, after taking a training run on the course, Vonn said: “It's not a feel-good course, it's not a fun course, it's a stick-your-nose-in-it-and-make-it-down course. If you're skiing aggressive and not sliding, you'll be fast."

That is precisely what she did. While her competitors were routinely sliding off the perfect line down the hill – the fall line – like rodeo riders bucked from a bull, Vonn tenaciously clung to it.

“She has a love for the fall line that you can’t teach somebody,” said Street in an interview before the Games. “You can teach someone to do it a little bit here and there, but all the time to be yearning for that, pushing for that, she has a special knack for that.”

Obstacles to overcome

Even beyond the hill itself, the challenges to Vonn were not insignificant. Less than a week ago, an injured shin prevented her from being able even to put on her ski boot. But a series of weather-related delays to the alpine skiing schedule has helped.

“I needed those days off,” she said.

Yet on this day, perhaps the greater challenge was her own teammate, Julia Mancuso, who was nearly one second ahead of the field when Vonn entered the start gate. When Vonn crossed the finish line, Mancuso was 0.56 second behind her – and bronze medalist Elisabeth Goergl of Austria was an astonishing 1.46 seconds back.

In the men’s downhill two days earlier, 0.09 seconds separated first and third.

It was as if Usain Bolt had made an appearance at the Franz’s Downhill course, arms spread wide, screaming across the finish.

Already a two-time overall World Cup champion – and on her way to a third this year – Vonn is already great. Now, the legendary awaits as these Olympics spread before her with an amazing sense of possibility.

Even in the most outrageous scenario, Vonn will not become the most prolific medal-winner in Olympic alpine history. Janica Kostelic holds that record, with six medals – four gold – in two Games.

With gold Wednesday, however, Vonn is at least putting herself on that path.

Results from this year suggest that she is a medal favorite in the super G and Thursday’s combined. And only Kostelic has won more than three medals in a single Olympics – four (three gold) in 2002.

If Vonn wants to be considered one of the best alpine skiers ever, Wednesday was a perfect start.

Christa Case Bryant contributed to this report.

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