As the snow fell and the fog drifted down from the top of the mountain, all Lindsey Vonn wanted to do was slow down and rest. Maybe take a snooze in a snow bank. Let her racing do the talking. There certainly was a lot to get into.
For starters, she skied clean enough to beat her closest rival by almost half a second to win Sunday’s World Cup Super G in the Canadian Rockies. But that was just the tip of the ski pole for the 28-year-old American wonder woman, Olympic champion and A-list celebrity.
For the second year in a row, she won all three races here, including a pair of downhills. That made her the first skier, male or female, to win three races at the same venue in two different seasons. Overall, she has now won seven consecutive World Cup races at the same venue, a record for female skiers. And she succeeded here in the face of arduous circumstances.
Not only was Vonn still recovering from stomach pains that had hospitalized her for days – she was given morphine and Percocet to soothe the discomfort – she was also caught in a media vortex of her wanting to ski a World Cup downhill against the men. Skiing’s governing body, FIS, has already turned down her request for such a race and Vonn is exploring legal action as a last-hope rebuttal.
And yet with all that bearing down on her, including Twitter rumours she was hospitalized because she was pregnant, Vonn roared down her favourite mountain with the intestinal fortitude of a four-time overall World Cup champion.
“I woke up and I was so tired I tried to do everything I could to conserve energy – do less warm-up runs,” she said after her
super-G triumph gave her a weekend payout of 75,000 Swiss francs (about $80,000 Canadian). “Now I’m completely dead. I could probably take a nap here at the finish.”
Vonn’s desire to compete against men became a greater talking point when she clocked in at 135 kilometres an hour during Friday’s downhill. That speed equalled Canadian Jan Hudec’s top pace during the men’s downhill on virtually the same course a week earlier. But a closer examination of Vonn’s downhill, even of not at her physical best, offered a different view.
Vonn’s time of 1 minute 52.61 seconds was four seconds off the men’s winning time (1:48.31) set by Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal. Vonn’s time would have tied her for 57th place with Didier Defago of Switzerland.
Former Canadian World Cup racer Brian Stemmle, while a supporter of Vonn competing against men, crunched the numbers and said it is one thing to be clocked fast at a certain spot on the course; it’s another entirely to maintain that speed over the length of a downhill course, some 3,100 metres with an 800-metre vertical drop.
“It’s like Danica Patrick putting her foot down on the gas in NASCAR and Brad Keselowski doing the same thing,” Stemmle said. “That’s just straight speed. Anyone can go fast if they have the courage. It’s the other stuff in-between. … People should know she’s not as big [as men], not as powerful to resist against pressure and gravity, everything that’s pushing your rear end to your bindings. Because the men are so strong they can still maintain their speed all the way down.”
Vonn, who won Saturday’s downhill after recovering from a near fall, remains convinced her results are the best argument she can muster in trying to ski against her male counterparts.
“It is not like I’m getting 20th every day and saying I want to race the men,” she said. “I’m just trying to push myself. Of course I don’t ski every race perfectly and I make mistakes, as does every racer. I think this weekend was the next step for me and a testament to why I want to race with the men. Today wasn’t my best race ever but I won and that’s a positive.”
Knowing she’s well-positioned for the balance of the World Cup season after being hospitalized and questioned can only make her stronger and that less beatable on the women’s circuit.
“I was in a pretty rough place sitting in a hospital bed and everyone is training and skiing fast and Tina [Maze of Slovenia] is winning everything and, ‘Great. How am I supposed to get up and keep going?” Vonn asked herself. “I’ve gone through back pain and knee pain and whatever. I can deal with pain but ... energy is something that you have to have to compete well. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
As for those pregnancy rumours, Vonn offered a satirical response: “Do I look pregnant? Maybe I had too much breakfast. I guess the more successful you are, the more people talk bad about you. I guess it’s a good thing.”
For Vonn, everything’s good again and likely to stay that way for some time to come.
Larisa Yurkiw of Owen Sound, Ont., was the top Canadian on Sunday, in 25th.