Peter Shelton

Lindsey Vonn, Drama Queen

Posted in Ski history, Ski racing, Watch columns by pshelton on December 6, 2012

Drama queen Lindsey Vonn took all the drama out of the races in Lake Louise last weekend, winning three in a row (two downhills and a super G), despite a stomach bug that had hospitalized her for two days and nights.

The hospital stay, prior to the Aspen races over Thanksgiving, was big news, with the blonde, 5-foot 10-inch, reigning overall champ moaning about missing training and feeling weak as a kitten. She didn’t, in fact, do well in the Aspen giant slalom, finishing a distant 21st. She decided to skip the next day’s slalom to focus her powers on the speed events in Canada, the second and last North American stop on the 2012-13 tour.

Ski scribes now refer to Lake Louise as “Lake Lindsey.” She has won seven straight World Cup races there. Last season’s hat trick, combined with the one this year, is unprecedented. No woman, or man, has pulled off a string like that at one venue. Lake Lindsey, indeed.

She won by large margins, in the fog, on a rolling, fast, relatively easy course she says she could ski with her eyes closed. Here at least, the rest of the women’s field admit they are merely racing for second place.

As it happened, second place in Louise went to Americans all three days: Californian Stacey Cook finished runner-up in both downhills, while tiara-wearing bridesmaid Julia Mancuso took the second step in super G.

Mancuso has 18 second-place finishes in her career. She is the same age as Vonn, born in 1984. She has won Olympic gold and come as close as third in the yearlong overall chase. Had she not overlapped the Age of Lindsey, she might have been a dominant force. Then again, the fun-loving, naturally gifted Mancuso comes from a different place than does the workaholic Midwesterner, Vonn. As a child in Reno, Julia saw her father hauled off to prison for running a $140 million marijuana smuggling ring.

Vonn said the wins, and winning margins (a ridiculous 1.73 seconds in the first downhill), were vindication in her quest to ski against the men. She wants to be the Annika Sorenstam of skiing. She wants to challenge herself, see where she stacks up against the bigger, faster men. So far the Fédération Internationale de Ski has denied her, but who knows? They may cave eventually.

Whether or not Lindsey shatters that ice ceiling, she is on pace to surpass another hallowed record. The three victories in Louise give her 56 World Cup wins in her career, one more than third-place Swiss Vreni Schneider, and six behind the peerless Austrian Annemarie Moser-Pröll, who retired in 1980 with 62. Moser-Pröll was 26 when she called it quits, having started on tour at age 15. (She spent the entire winter of 1976 caring for her dying father.) In those 11 seasons, she took the overall title six times, five in a row before she turned 21. No woman or man has done that; Lindsey has earned four overalls, so far.

Vonn is now 28, in her 13th World Cup season. She thinks she has a good shot at reaching Moser-Pröll’s 62, maybe even this year. And while she feigns awe whenever the names Moser-Pröll or Ingemar Stenmark are mentioned (maybe it’s genuine, or just good manners; I can’t tell in one so ravenously ambitious), she also affects a stunning self-confidence born, I sometimes think, of her ability to create, and feed off drama. In the finish corral at the super G last weekend, she collapsed to the snow at Mancuso’s feet.

Stenmark is, of course, the gold standard. The taciturn Swede won 86 races over the course of his 16 seasons, all of them slaloms and giant slaloms; he didn’t like the big speeds of downhill. Stenmark was so good the FIS changed the rules to keep him from winning the overall every year. After he took three straight (1976-78), FIS adjusted the scoring to allow the likes of Phil Mahre, a middling downhiller who nevertheless won numerous combined events, to wrest away the season-long title. Stenmark came second overall five years in a row after that. The super G was introduced in 1982 as a new, fourth discipline, for men and women, to further reward speed skiers (like Vonn) in the points race against gate specialists, forever epitomized by Stenmark.

Whether or not Vonn even approaches Stenmark’s career victories mark (she has passed all the other men) is, of course, to be determined. Age and/or injury will eventually slow her. Or so one would imagine. She says she thinks 31 more wins is a possibility. And who would doubt her. She’s freakishly talented, and zombie-like in her determination. Stenmark won his last race, a giant slalom in Aspen, a month before he turned 33.

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