Lindsey Vonn’s quest for five Olympic medals ended today. Which is just as well, because it had never truly existed outside the realm of imagination.
Vonn will be disappointed that it ended today. When she caught a tip on a gate and spun out of the course during the slalom run of the women’s combined, she was well placed for a medal, perhaps silver.
This was one of the events where she could win – was favored to win – a medal.
But if her medal run hadn’t ended today, it almost certainly would have ended Wednesday in the giant slalom or Friday in the slalom. Sure, NBC and the rest of America would have been happy with that – one more week to imagine that the fantastic just might come true.
But today is a day to be honest: It was never going to happen, anyway, and Vonn knew that.
No woman has ever won five alpine skiing medals in an Olympics for one reason: It’s really hard, maybe impossible.
Thursday’s combined event showed why.
The combined adds one run of downhill to one run of slalom for an aggregate time. The goal is to determine the sport’s most well-rounded skier by forcing her to compete in skiing’s two most different disciplines – sort of like forcing Peyton Manning to play quarterback in the first half and wide receiver in the second.
Understandably, that’s a tough job. The best all-around skiers are, in truth, simply less bad at some events than others. Germany’s Maria Riesch, for instance, has the highest ranking across all five disciplines, but she is still ranked only 15th in the super-G.
Like Vonn, she excels in two disciplines and basically muddles through the others.
Vonn is skiing’s Queen of Speed. For the past two seasons, she has been virtually unbeatable in skiing’s fastest events: the downhill and the super-G. But in the slower, more technical events – giant slalom and slalom – she’s mostly a muddler.
So her strategy in the combined goes something like this: shock and awe in the downhill, hold on in the slalom.
In the World Cup combined event that Vonn won this year, she led Riesch by 1.52 seconds after the downhill.
After the downhill run Thursday, however, Vonn led Riesch by only 0.33 seconds. When she slid out of the slalom, Vonn was already 0.3 seconds behind Riesch.
In short, Vonn was a strong favorite for three medals – including the super-G scheduled for Saturday – but the other two? Only by a big stretch of patriotic spirit.
Her five giant slalom results this season: 9th, Did Not Finish, Did Not Finish, Did Not Finish, 19th.
Her six slalom results: 2nd, Did Not Finish, 8th, 18th, Did Not Finish, Did Not Finish.
Sure, today was a bad day for Vonn. But it was no catastrophe.
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