Katja Seizinger

Lindsey Vonn, like Tim Tebow, comes through big time

Lindsey Vonn certainly has a sense for the moment. She won the super-G Wednesday at home on the Birds of Prey course in Beaver Creek, Colo. -- her first-ever win on an American course. It was her fourth straight World Cup victory. Pretty much every kid in Vail got the day off of school to watch Lindsey race; she sent them all home happy and, from the looks of it, with an autograph, too.

Beyond which -- just as she was about to hop onto the top step of the podium at the post-race ceremony, Lindsey dropped to a knee with her skis and struck the "Tebow" pose. Why not? When in Colorado, do like everyone else.

As the Associated Press and Denver Post reported, Lindsey -- always respectful -- had asked Denver Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow's brother, Robby, who was at the race, if it would be okay if she won to, um, "Tebow."

The Post reported that she said, "… If I won in Colorado, I would do it. Go Broncos! And I did it. Got to represent."

Lindsey Vonn is the extraordinary American star who leaps out of the sports pages to become a cultural phenomenon. That's all the more remarkable because skiing is hardly the NFL and it takes someone with verve and insight, someone like Vonn, to see the genius in striking the "Tebow" pose before a hometown crowd after winning a race.

For all that, her cross-over appeal is inextricably tied to and rooted in her skiing success. And what she is doing is not only rewriting the history books but revolutionizing the way a female skier approaches alpine racing.

It has been said here before and will be said again -- Lindsey Vonn is the best the United States has ever produced.

That fourth straight win -- Vonn is the first U.S. racer to ever win four straight. Her win gave the U.S. team its third win here in five races. Bode Miller won a downhill Friday; Ted Ligety won a giant slalom Tuesday.

The victory is the 46th of Vonn's World Cup career. That ties her for third on the all-time list with Renate Goetschl of Austria. Vreni Schneider of Switzerland has 55. Austria's Annemarie Moeser-Proell is tops with 62.

She now has 16 career World Cup super-G wins. That's tied for most with Katja Seizinger of Germany for all-time most.

It was Vonn's 14th win in her last 19 World Cup super-Gs. She has never finished lower than third -- and, as the U.S. Ski Team pointed out, third only once.

Of course she leads the overall World Cup standings.

She said she was more nervous Wednesday than she had maybe ever been before any race, feeling the pressure of wanting to come through for her family, friends, community and country. "Anything other than winning would have been a catastrophe and people would have been really disappointed," she allowed afterward.

She didn't get a great start. About halfway down, she almost missed a blind gate. But she kept charging and at the bottom of the course she put the hammer down.

Her time: 1:10:68.

Fabienne Suter of Switzerland finished 37-hundredths of a second behind. Anna Fenninger of Austria took third.

Julia Mancuso finished eighth, Leanne Smith 11th.

Vonn is racing now on men's skis. Every race. The course Wednesday was pretty much -- not quite -- the men's super-G Birds of Prey. She flat-out said "the goal today" was "to really attack," explaining, "I tried to ski like a guy."

That, simply put, is the Lindsey Vonn revolution in women's skiing.

She not only skis on men's skis. She skis like a guy.

As she explained: "I watched the men's race, the super-G here last week, and they're just so dynamic and aggressive, and they really take it down the fall line, and that's what I wanted to try today. I think I did that down the bottom. But I definitely was a little too straight in some parts -- almost missed a couple gates, you know, trying to be too dynamic trying to push the line."

She explained a couple days ago, in Lake Louise, Alberta, where she won two downhills and a super-G, that the balance in skiing means pushing the line between being aggressive and making mistakes.

Vonn, it must be understood, has re-defined the line. She is way more dynamic and way farther out on that line than any other woman in the world.

Can she be beaten? Of course.

Will she be beaten? Surely.

But -- assuming she stays healthy -- will she continue to do what no one else done?

That, too, seems inevitable.

This season promises to be unbelievable ride. It's only December. The season has really just begun.

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.

Thud of a World Cup ski season ending

In an anticlimactic thud of an ending to one of the most exciting alpine ski seasons ever, Germany's Maria Riesch on Saturday beat her very good friend, American Lindsey Vonn, for the women's World Cup overall title when crummy weather forced the cancellation of the year's final race, a giant slalom. How thoroughly, profoundly unsatisfying.

"Win or lose," Vonn said afterward, "I just wanted the chance. I feel devastated.

"The cancellation of this race doesn't just hurt me. It hurts the fans and the sport of ski racing as a whole."

Indeed, that is the bottom line.

Not to take anything away from Riesch.

She finished with 1,728 points.

Vonn ended up with 1,725.

Riesch's victory marks the first time a German has won the women's World Cup overall since Katja Seizinger in 1998. That's a big deal.

To be very, very clear: This is not about Riesch. Kudos to her. Over the course of the season, she amassed enough points to prevail, and that's how the system works.

But like all systems, with rules and regulations,  you have to ask whether it produced an outcome that served its stakeholders well. Who feels good about this?

Vonn had launched one of the great late-season charges in World Cup history, her charge launched in a bizarre way by an early February concussion. The concussion forced her to take time off. After she felt better, she said many times, she decided she had nothing to lose -- and so she decided to just let it rip.

In late February, at the World Cup stop in Sweden, Vonn was 216 points down.

Then, though, after a great weekend in Tarvisio, Italy, just 96. Then, after a stop in the Czech Republic, 23.

The tour moved this week to the World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, and after the first of four scheduled races, a downhill won by American Julia Mancuso, Vonn fourth, Riesch 17th, Vonn found herself back in the overall lead, with 1,725 points, Riesch with 1,678.

Weather forced the cancellation of the next event, the super-G, arguably Vonn's best event. She had clinched the season's super-G title two weeks before, along with the downhill and super-combined crowns. That super-G cancellation probably deprived Vonn of critical points.

They managed to run, albeit on a shortened course, the third race of the four on the schedule, a slalom. Vonn finished 13th, Riesch fourth, enough to put Riesch back on top in the overall standings by -- three points.

Pending the fourth, and final, race, the giant slalom.

At the Czech World Cup stop, last week in Spindleruv Mlyn,  Vonn's third-place in the GS was the very first of her career. So she might well have been looking at points in the GS as well.

"I'm really disappointed (Thursday's) race was canceled," Vonn had said, looking around at the yucky weather in Lenzerheide, adding about Saturday, "I really hope they try, because I know I have a chance."

Thirty years from now, when Maria and Lindsey are sitting around the Christmas tree, reminiscing about their years dominating the ski circuit, and the 2011 season comes up, and the kids with their shiny faces say, tell us the story again about how it was that Grandma Lindsey won three straight World Cup overalls in 2008 and 2009 and 2010 and then in 2011 Grandma Maria beat Grandma Lindsey by three points for the championship but is it true, Grandma Lindsey, that you didn't even get the chance to race Grandma Maria on the very last day to find out who was best?

How's that going to go over around the Christmas table?

Right. Which is why this situation should never, ever be allowed to happen again.

There has to be a better way. Not saying the answer is immediately apparent.  Just saying there has to be a better way because, as Vonn points out, alpine racing is an extraordinary sport and yet it struggles for attention outside the Olympic spotlight. This is the sort of thing that does not lend it credibility.

Indeed, this -- to relate it in terms an American audience might understand -- is like the baseball version of a five-inning no-hitter. It counts but -- yech.

"I think they could have been working on [the course] like they did yesterday," to get it ready for the slalom, the U.S. women's head coach Alex Hoedlmoser, said Saturday. "I have the feeling they didn't try everything."

Query: Why, in Switzerland, of all places, was there not sufficient snow-making equipment on hand -- or, for that matter, stored-up snow -- to ensure a suitable course?

Or are these finals a clear sign of the ominous global warming issues that have been an undercurrent of the World Cup circuit for the past several years? If that's the case, perhaps some good might come out of this thud of an ending. Maybe it could serve as the spark for a meaningful, high-level FIS-led analysis of climate change and whether the federation's rules ought to be reviewed to allow for winners to be decided where they ought to be decided.

On the mountain.

To ask a simple question: Shouldn't that be obvious?