The wait is finally over.
Lindsey Vonn, widely considered America's best female skier in history, will at long last take to the Whistler slopes this afternoon in the women's downhill on day six of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
That is, of course, if there is not too much rain, snow, or sun, and the ski lift is working properly.
Between the faulty hydraulics that plagued the raising of the Olympic cauldron during the Opening Ceremony, the ineffective eco-friendly ice resurfacing machines that have delayed speed skating competitions, and fickle weather that has led to numerous cancellations of alpine skiing events both for too much snow and too little, it seems that almost anything could happen today to conspire to keep America's poster girl for the 2010 games off the slopes yet again.
However, assuming all follows schedule—and every indication is that the weather will be just fine for skiing this afternoon—Vonn will look to claim her first medal in her third trip to the Olympics.
Vonn's best Olympic finish came in 2002 in Salt Lake City when she placed sixth in the super combined. Four years later in Torino, a scary crash during a downhill training run left her hospitalized the day before she managed a gutsy eighth place finish in the event.
The buzz around Vonn in Vancouver, however, is an entirely new element from what she experienced in her past two Olympic trips. For the first time, she enters the games with lofty expectations as a gold medal favorite after finishing atop the overall, downhill, and super-G World Cup standings in the last two years.
She is also the reigning world champion in the super-G and downhill and has been the featured American athlete in most newspapers, magazines, and television broadcasts leading up to Vancouver.
Some have surmised that just one gold medal could launch her to the status of Michael Phelps—who is estimated to have made around $50 million off of his swimming success in the 2008 Beijing Olympics—in the endorsement world.
The media attention around Vonn has only grown in the past week since it was revealed that a right shin injury might hinder her medal chances or keep her out of the Olympics altogether. Vonn's training runs and health updates have seemingly received as much media attention as America's two gold medals to date from snowboard cross champion Seth Wescott and mogul skier Hannah Kearney.
Weather delays have only added to the intrigue as Vonn has still yet to make an appearance in competition at these games. While the delays have allowed Vonn to rest her bruised right shin, they have also switched the order of events so that the downhill will be her first attempt at gold.
Vonn is entered in all five alpine events in Vancouver and should contend for medals each time she takes to the slopes, but the downhill is considered to be her best event. The re-ordered alpine schedule means that Vonn will not have a chance to work her way into these games and test out her shin and form in events that are of less importance to her.
Today, with the weather and all else cooperating, Lindsey Vonn will finally have her chance to compete for gold and live up to the lofty expectations that have been created for her.
To say that Vonn should win gold today is unfair to her.
Questions remain about the health of her shin and what impact the weather delays and limited practice time on the course will have on all of the competitors in today's race. Add in the fact that she will face a number of tough competitors, including Germany's Maria Reisch and Sweden's Anja Parson, and that her success will be determined by just one two-minute trip down the mountain, and Vonn's quest for gold seems outright daunting.
The podium in the men's downhill on Monday was decided by less than one tenth of a second. In a competition so close, determined by fractions of a second, Vonn could finish anywhere from first to off the podium even if she manages to put together a near perfect trip down the mountain this afternoon.
But she should finally have the chance to let her skis do the talking.