WHISTLER, British Columbia -- At just before noon on Thursday,
Vonn smiled broadly, balled up his right hand into a fist and dropped it slightly toward his lap. "Fist pump,'' he said, describing both the action and his emotions.
With the subtle gesture, Lindsey Vonn was informally placed on the
Thomas: "We've all heard a lot about the Whistler weather. We welcome it. Every day will make a difference at this point.'' (When I talked to Thomas Wednesday night, he had said, "Nothing would make me happier than five days straight with pounding blizzards.''). Lindsey (through U.S. Ski Team press officer
Background: Lindsey Vonn rocked the Games early Wednesday morning when NBC's
And Thursday turned out to be a very good day. According to Thomas Vonn, on Wednesday night, Lindsey put her right foot into a Head racing ski boot for the fourth time since the injury. The first two had been disastrous, the third (on Monday night) had been better. On Wednesday night, said Thomas, "It was good enough to inspect.'' (Before downhill training runs and races, skiers slowly slide down the course, identifying key areas for the actual run, a process called course inspection). Said Thomas: "She thought she could side-slip down with me.''
In addition to therapy provided largely by Red Bull physiotherapist
Lindsey got up at 5:20 and ate breakfast at their condo near the race course. Thomas joined her a half-hour later. Before leaving for inspection, Saringer applied a topical numbing agent -- "like lidocaine,'' says Thomas. "It helped considerably.'' (Thomas also said significant care is being taken to ensure that Lindsey is not given or rubbed with a substance "that shows up on some banned list.'').
Together the Vonns went through inspection, slipping carefully down the course in racing gear covered by a loose, heavy layer of traditional winter clothing. "It felt good enough that she wanted to do a free run, to see if she could the [training] run,'' says Thomas. (More translation: A
"I followed behind her,'' says Thomas, a former U.S. Ski team member and 2002 Olympian. "She looked okay. She was obviously in pain. But she wasn't pulling out or stopping. I think all the painkillers and numbing helped quite a bit. That put a smile on my face. When we got to the bottom of the run, she was smiling, like, 'I think we can do this.''' The run was roughly 90 seconds long, and Vonn did only one before going back to the top of the hill for training.
Only two women did training runs before it was cancelled.
Which brings us back to The Herminator. Maier arrived at the 1998 Nagano Olympics as a nascent force in alpine skiing, a virtually unbeatable racing machine. The speed events of downhill and Super-G (and the combined) took place in the mountains of Hakuba, two hours away from the host city. Like Whistler, Hakuba is relatively close to the ocean and at relatively low altitude, leaving it susceptible to uncertain weather. It rains, it snows, it gets foggy.
The men's downhill was scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 8. It was postponed for five, long days as massive storms (both rain and snow) settled in. (I remember sitting them in a tiny hotel room in the mountains, occasionally sprung for snowball fights and slogging runs). Finally, the downhill went off on Friday, Feb. 13, and Maier was injured in a spectacular crash.
The Super-G was scheduled for the very next day, as organizers compressed the schedule. But again there was rain. And then fog. The Super-G did not go off until Monday, and by then Maier had healed enough to race, and win. "I was always hopeful that the race would be later," Maier said at the time.
Now Lindsey Vonn is hopeful of the very same thing.