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Look out for Lindsey Vonn

In Turin, US skiier Vonn took a spill and settled for a consolation prize. This time the "Vonntourage" goes for gold.

She certainly couldn’t have performed much better in the years leading up to this Olympics. Vonn topped the World Cup circuit in both 2008 and 2009, the first American woman to capture back-to-back titles, and has a healthy lead in the Cup standings again this year. At just 25 years of age — with nine World Cup wins already this season and 31 in her career — she is poised to pass Miller, with 32 victories, as the winningest American ski racer ever.

At 32, Miller has come out of retirement and could find redemption in Vancouver. But it is Vonn who will be the team’s headliner and the focus of its greatest hopes. Unlike the crusty Miller, Vonn is perfectly cast for the role. She is relentlessly sunny — “happy-go-lucky” is her own description — and appears completely comfortable with any added burden.

Still, she got plenty angry and quite feisty when an Austrian coach suggested that her size — Vonn is a striking and sturdy 5’10", 160-plus pounds — accounted for much of her success against smaller rivals. “Ridiculous,” she bristled. “If weight was the key to success in ski racing, everyone would be stuffing their face with food. I give 24 hours a day for my sport.”

Thanks to an unusual spousal partnership, her husband, Thomas, a former ski racer — on the circuit they are the “Vonntourage” — handles all equipment issues, logistics and business matters, allowing Lindsay to concentrate on conditioning and competing. But this year Vonn accepted a large endorsement deal from Head to switch equipment from the Rossignol line that she had used her entire career. She had to devote considerable time early in the season to trying out combinations of new boots and skis to assure her comfort level.

Ranked seventh among women in career World Cup victories, Vonn is already guaranteed a significant legacy in her sport. But she knows that many sports fans, particularly Americans, pay little attention to skiing except during the Olympics. She knows too that, with all the pre-Games hype — she’s featured in NBC’s ad campaign and is Sports Illustrated’s Olympic cover girl — expectations for her Vancouver performance are steadily soaring.

Vonn hasn’t tried to downplay them: if anything she has ratcheted them up with her own impassioned embrace of the Games. “The Olympics are something as a little kid I always dreamed about winning,” Vonn says. “They mean more to me than anything else.”

In skiing, where the mountains often prove fickle as well as treacherous, results can never be guaranteed. But Vonn’s effort is always unstinting and, coupled with her superior talents, should ensure that this time around she will leave the Olympics with more than a consolation prize.

Ladies Alpine Skiing:
Super Combined Downhill/Slalom — Feb. 14
Downhill — Feb. 17
Super-G — Feb. 20
Giant Slalom — Feb. 24
Slalom — Feb. 26