Talent, not weight, tips scales in Vonn’s favor
Commenting on a woman’s weight can bring nothing but trouble.
But when that woman happens to be one the world’s premier athletes and possibly the greatest female ski racer ever produced in this country - and one who has been known to flash a fierce temper - it’s downright ridiculous.
But that was the can of worms opened last weekend by some European ski coaches and journalists, who might have been a tad sick of eating Lindsey Vonn’s snow spray as she carves her way to win after win this season.
Judging by the numbers, at 5 feet 10 inches and 160 pounds, Vonn is far from small in the ski racing world. But the cry of “heavy’’ - as in too heavy - would have to come from someone who has never seen Lindsey Vonn.
And yet the assertion came from Austrian women’s Alpine coach Herbert Mandl, who sees the American superstar on a regular basis, that Vonn’s weight helps her in the downhill events, and who emphasized the “giant duel’’ this season between Vonn and her German rival, 5-10, 168-pound Maria Riesch, for World Cup supremacy. This was among other remarks aimed at Vonn’s size.
Mandl’s outburst might have betrayed a bit of frustration after he watched Vonn blow away the field of European skiers in two straight downhills last weekend at Haus im Ennstal, Austria.
Judging from what happened the next day, he probably picked the wrong time to level his weight remarks about Vonn.
“I use things like that to push myself,’’ said Vonn, “so I went out and swept three races.’’
Exactly. The day after her second downhill win, Vonn took to the starting gate again and did what no other US ski racer has ever done, winning her third race in a row. A World Cup three-peat at a single event, and a feat not seen since German ace Katja Seizinger did it in 1997.
Vonn, 25, said the Euro version of locker room trash talk was probably heightened by local journalists, but that her frustration with what Mandl said was extra motivation for her to ski faster in the super-G Sunday.
“The Austrian coaches actually apologized to me,’’ said Vonn, whose weekend propelled her past Phil Mahre as the second-winningest US skier with 28 World Cup victories. Only Bode Miller has more with 31.
“As a woman, I would like to drop the subject of weight,’’ Vonn said with a chuckle, “but I pride myself on my work ethic, how hard I work at the gym. I give everything for my sport and work incredibly hard.
“For someone to say that I’m overweight is completely ridiculous. In ski racing, it’s not about how much you weigh. You have to be powerful and agile. If weight were the key to success in ski racing, then everyone would be stuffing their face. I mean, I know there’s always going to be some negative comment in the press, but this one really struck a chord and gave me extra motivation.’’
Vonn is well known for her fierce competitiveness. At the last Olympics in Turin, she injured her back so badly in a training crash that she needed help walking. But on race day, she showed up in the starting gate of the downhill and made it through the entire course, finishing eighth and winning the Olympic Spirit Award.
Then earlier this season, with the Vancouver Olympics just a month away, Vonn injured her arm in a giant slalom in Leinz, Austria. As she lay in the snow, she said she thought the arm might have been broken.
“I lay there thinking, how am I going to ski with a broken arm?’’ she said.
When an MRI revealed only bruises, Vonn was relieved, but has skied with her arm wrapped in a brace since.