Lindsey Vonn, the smiling girl with Minnesota roots and a mean training regime, has wrapped up her fourth overall World Cup title in alpine skiing – making her the only American to have won skiing's most coveted title four years in a row.
"I don't know what to say," an emotional Vonn told reporters after winning a giant slalom World Cup in Are, Sweden. "I just wanted to have two aggressive runs today. I felt like I had nothing to lose and I was having fun."
Vonn's victory today – the 52nd of her World Cup career – sealed her claim to the title, which is awarded to the skier with the most accumulated points since the season opened in October. With little more than a week of racing left, Vonn has an insurmountable lead over No. 2 Tina Maze of Slovenia.
Her win caps a banner year for US women on skis. After years at the margins of a sport long dominated by alpine wunderkinds and Scandinavian speed demons, America's daring cowgirls are cleaning up.
Nordic skier Kikkan Randall blows the field away
In Nordic skiing, where for years a top-30 finish was cheered back home, Alaskan Kikkan Randall this week wrapped up the overall World Cup sprint title. A great cartoon by German artist Thomas Zipfel shows Randall in a cowboy hat with spurs and a pistol capturing the coveted crystal globe award, as rivals Marit Bjoergen of Norway and Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland cower in astonishment.
And all that despite several mishaps: One of Randall's podium finishes came after crashing when her Russian nemesis fell in front of her. But she made a superhuman surge to regain contact with the pack, nearly winning before slipping to third. In her latest sprint, she was left scooting along the track with only one ski after the other malfunctioned.
But the Kikkanimal, as she dubbed herself in high school, will still become the first American to win a World Cup title since Bill Koch in 1982 – the year she was born.
Sarah Hendrickson, ski jumping rookie
In the inaugural World Cup season for women's ski jumping, 17-year-old Sarah Hendrickson captured the overall title in stunning style. No matter that she wasn't even selected for the US Ski Team last year; she forged ahead with nine wins out of 13 competitions, capturing the crystal globe by a commanding 1,169 points over Austrian runner-up Daniela Iraschko, with 779 points.
After a hard-fought battle, Hendrickson and other women ski jumpers have finally been given their own spot in the Olympic Games – meaning she is well-placed to win a medal in the first Olympic women's ski jumping competition in Sochi, Russia, two years from now.
Hannah Kearney, moguls champ
Meanwhile on the bumps, mogul skier Hannah Kearney recorded a 16-win streak beginning in January 2011 and only ending last month. That's a record not only for freestyle skiers, but for skiers (both men and women) from all disciplines, from downhill to slalom to cross country.
The 2010 Olympic champion sure showed her success was no fluke. Despite breaking her undefeated stretch, she still has nearly double the World Cup points of her nearest competitor.
Kearney makes it look easy, but it hasn't always been; after early success as a junior, she had to sit out a couple of seasons struggling with injuries and a lack of motivation. But the quiet go-getter from New Hampshire's Waterville Valley Black and Blue Trail Smashers (BBTS) came back strong.
Susan Dunklee, the newbie with a gun
Last but not least, biathlete Susan Dunklee. Biathlon, now the most popular winter sport on European TV, combines cross-country ski racing with shooting – a feat that has been compared to sprinting up stairs and then trying to thread a needle.
Dunklee, who only picked up shooting after graduating from Dartmouth in 2008, astonished many by nearly capturing a medal at this week's World Championships in Rupholding, Germany. She slipped to fifth in the final stages of the race, with slushy snow making for slow going, but her result is still the best-ever for US women and stands as a warning: There are better things to come from America.
The Sochi Olympics are still two years away, but the prospects are looking good for US snow queens.
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