2010 Winter Olympics: Lindsey Vonn Wins Gold in Her Greatest Performance Ever

Ash MarshallSenior Analyst IFebruary 17, 2010

WHISTLER, BC - FEBRUARY 17:  Lindsey Vonn of the United States reacts after competing during the Alpine Skiing Ladies Downhill on day 6 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Whistler Creekside on February 17, 2010 in Whistler, Canada.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Lindsey Vonn claimed the one medal that has eluded her throughout her illustrious career on Wednesday when she turned in the performance of a lifetime to win gold in the women's downhill.

I guess you could say it was just what the doctor ordered.

Vonn, doubtful even to compete in the Olympics when she touched down in Vancouver one week ago, pushed her painful right shin to the back of her mind as she flew down the undulating Whistler course to capture the very top prize in the sport.

With the victory, Vonn cements her legacy as not only America's greatest alpine skier ever, but also one of the world's all-time greats.

Sure, it was Vonn's strongest event, and yes, delays and cancellations afforded her extra time to rehab the shin she badly bruised a fortnight ago. But that should not take away from this spirited performance.

An Olympic gold medal in the event, considering the "will she, won't she" circumstances surrounding her availability, must rank as her finest achievement ever. The media scrutiny of the three-time Olympian alone would have been enough to make other, less determined skiers wilt under the limelight.

Vonn, skiing 16th out of the 45 competitors, came out of the gate flying, setting the fastest speed of any racer through the top part of the course.

She was 0.83 seconds ahead of teammate and temporary leader Julia Mancuso at the third checkpoint, and although she lost a little bit of time at the bottom of the mountain, she crossed the line more than half a second ahead of any of the other skiers with a time of 1:44.19.

Mancuso hung on to take second, with Austrian Elisabeth Gorgl in third, 1.45 seconds behind Vonn.

While there was a nail-biting finish in the men's event, where third-place finisher Bode Miller came within nine one hundredths of a gold, none of the remaining 29 racers came within a second of the dominant Vonn. 

The winner of five out of six races heading into Vancouver, Vonn skied fantastically well, giving it everything she had, despite the sore shin—which was covered in numbing cream ahead of the race.

She was aggressive and focused, and with the exception of a slight snowplough coming off the final jump to steady herself on the landing, it was nearly flawless.

"I had no idea where I was [in the standings] while I was on the course,” said Vonn. “To get to the bottom and see my name at the top was unbelievable, then to see that Julia was right there with me made it even more special."

Had Vonn finished second or third, it would have been tricky to place this performance in relation to her other memorable achievements. As it is, this performance will shoot right to the very top of an already-glorious list of accomplishments.

This race, while not perfect, trumps the two gold World Championship medals she won in the downhill and Super-G at Val d'Isere last year. It has the edge over the overall World Cup championships she claimed in 2008 and 2009 as well.

Any number of her 31 World Cup victories could rank inside the top 10, but few would come close to challenging what she laid down on the Canadian slopes today: Not the back-to-back downhill gold medals at Lake Louise in December, the three Super-G gold medals in three weeks at Haus im Ennstal, Cortina, and St. Moritz, or the first of 17 World Cup downhill golds at Lake Louise in 2004.

Not even her first taste of the Olympics in 2002, nor her spirited eighth place in Torino four years later after being hospitalized in a training crash, can compare.

Her Olympic gold here today trumps them all.

Adding to the magic of her run, Vonn also became the first American woman to win the downhill at the Olympics. In fact, no Team USA skier had even medaled in the event since 1994.

With Mancuso taking silver in an American one-two, the duo moved Team USA back to the top of the medal table with their ninth and 10th medals in the first six days of competition. Shaun White will likely add to this further tonight.

This afternoon though, it was all about Vonn. All about gold.

After taking the lead from Mancuso in the downhill today, Vonn never looked back. Even before it was official, Vonn knew she had accomplished something special, hugging her family and friends even though the final 10 racers had yet to ski. She knew she wouldn't be caught.

Sweden's Anja Paerson, in the No. 21 bib, was one of the big threats to Lindsey Vonn, but she wiped out coming off the final big jump after failing to stick the tricky landing. Next up was Maria Riesch, the only person to beat Vonn this season, but she too was well off the pace, more than two seconds adrift.
Riesch is currently ranked No. 1 in the slalom standings, No. 2 in the downhill behind Vonn, and No. 5 in combined. She will be even more hungry for medals after today's lackluster performance, so expect the German to come out strong in the remaining events.

Vonn, meanwhile, can now look ahead to the remaining four competitions of the Games.

Weather permitting, she will race in the super combined tomorrow morning, the Super-G on Saturday, the giant slalom next Wednesday, and the slalom a week from Friday.

Today was all about Lindsey Vonn and, as seems to be the case more often than not, she delivered.

All that remains now is whether or not she can capture even more medals and become the darling of the Games that everyone hoped she would be.