Few athletes are entering the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver with more potential for a gold medal than Lindsey Vonn. The U.S. skier has had great success over the years in virtually every competition outside of the Olympics. Vonn is hungry to be the best at the Vancouver Games in Canada.
A career described as going downhill very fast would be traumatic for virtually anyone - except Lindsey Vonn. For the elite American skier, it means perhaps matching the biggest individual gold medal windfall at a single Winter Olympics.
One of the most successful female ski racers in U.S. history, Vonn is the only American woman to have won two World Cup overall titles. She also has two downhill titles and a super giant slalom, or Super-G, title. She is one of a few world-class, five-event ski racers. Although that gives Vonn a chance at several gold medals in Vancouver, she is focusing on winning at least one.
"I have not given any thought to even the possibility of winning more than one medal at the Olympics because it is going to be really, really tough," said Lindsey Vonn. "I still would really like to do all five disciplines at the Olympics."
If Vonn wins in all five disciplines, she would match the single winter games record of five gold medals set by American speed skater Eric Heiden at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.
Lindsey Vonn grew up as Lindsey Kildow near Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was on skis at age two before her family moved to Vail, Colorado, which has some of the best ski slopes in the Rocky Mountains.
As a teenager, Kildow earned Junior Worlds medals and U.S. titles. Six weeks after she turned 20, Kildow earned her first World Cup victory. In 2007, Kildow married 2002 Olympian Thomas Vonn while continuing to win on the slopes.
The 25-year-old Vonn has more World Cup wins than any other American woman and has four World Championship medals, including two golds from last year. She says much of that success has come using men's skis instead of the slightly lighter and softer women's version.
"It is maybe not necessarily a lot faster between the men's and women's skis," she said. "But for me, I felt more comfortable. I felt like when it was bumpy, when conditions were tough that the skis are more stable. And I could do what I want. I could ski where I wanted and not have any problems."
But Vonn has had her share of problems. She missed nearly four weeks of competition in 2003 after suffering a hip injury in a crash. Vonn skied in the 2006 Turin Olympic downhill event, despite enduring a horrific spill during training. She continued her season with a special splint and finished by reaching the medal podium in seven of the 12 remaining World Cup races, including four wins.
In 2007, her season ended four weeks early with a severely sprained knee. Another knee injury last year almost forced her off the slopes again. Last February, she suffered a freak accident. While celebrating her downhill and Super-G wins at the world championships, she severed a tendon in her right thumb on a broken champagne bottle, forcing her to race with a special splint. And in December, Vonn crashed in a World Cup giant slalom race bruising her arm and requiring her, for awhile, to ski with a brace.
But now Lindsey Vonn is healed. She has been battling her close friend Maria Riesch [reesh] of Germany for this season's overall World Cup title, and is ready for the Vancouver Olympics.
And she is drawing inspiration from the recent success of her fellow U.S. winter Olympians.
"It is really, really cool to see how much depth we have all around in all of our winter sports," said Lindsey Vonn. "And I think everyone is really positive and optimistic about the Olympics. It definitely makes you feel like when your team is succeeding before the Olympics, I think it is definitely giving us that positive momentum and good energy that we need."
U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Bill Marolt says the best thing about Lindsey Vonn is that she is not only a great athlete, but also a great person.
"She understands that she is a role model, and so often now, athletes don't want to be role models," said Bill Marolt. "But the fact is is that when athletes have special status, they're given special responsibility, and she accepts that responsibility. I mean she does cool things, like when she is in Europe, she does her interviews in German. She's gone that extra mile to create a link to the media, but also to the public."
And Marolt says that Vonn's efforts will help draw more American children and potential future Olympians to the sport.
Vonn's own childhood hero was Picabo Street. She surpassed Street by winning her second World Championship gold medal last year. Street won an Olympic silver medal in 1994 and a gold in 1998. Lindsey Vonn aims to surpass those achievements at the Vancouver Winter Games, where potentially career-defining performances await.