Lindsey Vonn: a champion for our time

Lindsey Vonn skied even faster Saturday than she did the day before in winning -- again -- a World Cup downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta. As she did Friday, she led from wire to wire. On Friday, she crossed in 1:53.19. On Saturday, she went 1:51.35. Lower temperatures had hardened the course; that made it generally faster Saturday than it had been Friday.

Vonn had won Friday by a ridiculous 1.95 seconds. She won Saturday by "only" 1.68 seconds. France's Marie Marchand-Arvier finished second. Austria's Elisabeth Goergl finished third.

To top it off, she won the super-G on Sunday, with American Julia Mancuso taking third. The only other woman to win all three World Cup races at Lake Louise was Germany's Katja Seizinger in 1997.

Vonn now has 45 World Cup wins, far and away most ever by an American. Bode Miller, who won the Birds of Prey downhill Friday in Beaver Creek, Colo., has 33.

It's important to document what Lindsey Vonn has done this weekend in Lake Louise; truly, she has made history because you don't win ski races by 1.95 and 1.68 seconds.

At the same time, enough already with the numbers. They don't tell the real story, which is that we are in the presence of one of the great champions of American sport -- any sport, any time.

There's a simple reason 15-year-old boys like Parker McDonald want Lindsey Vonn to be their date to the Homecoming dance -- which she was last month back home in Colorado -- and it's way more than the fact that she looks killer when she's all dressed up.

She is a champion.

And we as a nation are so eager for a champion the likes of Lindsey Vonn.

No one, of course, is perfect, and Lindsey would be the first to tell you she is not.

But there hasn't been even one significant misstep on the public stage, even as she has traversed any number of personal dramas -- including the split, just announced, from her husband, Thomas.

The way she handled that this week? She made a point of publicly thanking her teammates; her extended World Cup family; posted a picture of longtime friend and rival Maria Hoefl-Riesch on Facebook; and then went out and won, big time, twice.

Even Julia Mancuso, who came of age with her on tour and is a very different spirit, said on Facebook after the first victory at Lake Louise that "you have to be impressed by a 2-second win by Lindsey Vonn."

All Lindsey does, basically, is overcome adversity and win. There might, or might not, be a ton of stuff going on behind the scenes. If there is, she doesn't let on. She doesn't complain. She just goes out, races as hard as she can, and a heck of a lot of the time she wins.

Lesser souls would have crumbled under any one of these incidents:

The horrifying training crash at the 2006 Olympics, so bad that a lot of people thought would have left her with a broken back -- she got out of the hospital and finished eighth at the downhill.

The bizarre incident at the 2009 world championships where her thumb was almost severed by a champagne bottle -- for the rest of the season, she skied with her thumb taped to her pole and won the overall World Cup title.

The crash before the 2010 Winter Games that banged her shin so severely that she couldn't even put her ski boot on -- she managed to win two medals, including gold in the downhill.

The concussion last season -- she overcame it and then, down 216 points, went on one of the great runs for the overall title, denied at the very end by the weather, short by only three points.

You want character, sportsmanship, fair play -- the kind of athlete little kids stand in line, in the cold, to get an autograph from?

One autograph request on Saturday was for Lindsey to sign a little girl's forehead.

"It's really cute," Lindsey said. "Kids just come up with some crazy ideas about what they want me to sign. You know, mostly it's hats and shirts but a lot of times it's foreheads and cheeks and arms. Kids are crazy. But very cute."

And here's why she's so obliging -- because when she, Lindsey, was a little girl, Picabo Street signed a poster, and Lindsey still has that poster. It's up in her house.

"It's something I've always remembered -- how big an impact Picabo had in my life when I was a kid," she said. "I always try to do my best to keep the kids positive and smiling and encourage them to follow their dreams, like Picabo did for me."

That's the real story.