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Friday, February 26, 2010
Updated: February 27, 11:55 AM ET
Vonn's Olympic story still a good one

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

WHISTLER, British Columbia -- After coming into the Olympics with her body bruised, Lindsey Vonn leaves with it battered (broken finger) and beaten (overall aches), but also slightly heavier. Unlike most people who went to the Olympics, however, her added weight is from a gold medal in the downhill and a bronze in the super-G, not a steady diet of beer and wine in the hospitality tents.

Lindsey Vonn
Lindsey Vonn won two medals at the 2010 Games, including gold in the downhill.

On the other hand, perhaps her body feels significantly lighter, now that all those expectations are no longer weighing on her shoulders.

"Five gold medals were never my goal," Vonn said after ending her Olympics by straddling a gate in Friday's slalom and not finishing the run. "Of course, I wanted to try, and looking back, four medals were very realistic. But nothing is ever the way we want it to be, nothing is ever perfect. All I could do was go into the Olympics as prepared as I could, aside from the injuries. I was physically ready, I was mentally ready and I got the gold medal that I came for.

"And even though I didn't get all the medals that everyone else expected me to get, I accomplished all of my dreams, and that's what you have to keep into perspective."

It was silly to think Vonn could pull a Michael Phelps by winning every race she entered. Even medaling in four events was expecting a lot. No matter how good Vonn is -- and she might win her third consecutive World Cup overall title -- there are just so many more variables to deal with in skiing compared to swimming.

Most obviously, the water in a swimming pool is liquid. And heated. In skiing, the water comes in every form -- ice, snow, rain and fog, sometimes all in the same run. Phelps never has to worry about the water growing colder or gaining current or a fog bank obscuring the end of the lane. Snow, light and visibility conditions change from skier to skier, though, favoring one and penalizing another simply on their start positions.

The conditions here also were more difficult than usual. Multiple races and training runs were postponed or cancelled due to rain and fog. Just to get in the mandatory training run for the downhill, the women had to ski the upper part of the course in the morning before the men's downhill race, then the lower course in the afternoon.

"We were talking about this yesterday," said Germany's Maria Riesch, who won the gold medal in Friday's slalom. "We are always trying to get the perfect training conditions with icy slopes and the best conditions, and then we come to the Olympics and we have to ski on soft, spring snow."

And then there are the injuries. There are no waterfalls in swimming, nor are there slalom gates to avoid. Swimmers do not crash unless they are Dennis Quaid in "Breaking Away." Skiers crash all the time. American Sarah Schleper smacked her chin in a training run and looked down to see blood dripping onto her bib and boots. She bandaged up the chin, turned the bloodied bib around and finished 16th.

Vonn bruised her shin a week or so before the Olympics and then broke a finger when she crashed during the giant slalom Wednesday.

"It was just adding a long list to my injuries this season," she said. "My physical therapist is like, 'How many times do I have to put you back together in one year?' I'm just trying to put the duct tape around my body parts and staying together for my last [World Cup] races."

With a little luck, the Olympics could easily have gone better for Vonn. She medaled in every race she finished and won the downhill portion of the super combined before skiing off the course in the slalom. She had the best split in the first GS run as well before crashing into the netting and breaking her finger. She said the finger did not affect her slalom run, attributing that to "bad luck or bad skiing, however you want to put it."

Lindsey Vonn
Lindsey Vonn still competed in Friday's slalom despite crashing during Wednesday's giant slalom, where she fractured her pinky finger.

Of course, actually finishing the race upright is sort of a big part of skiing. And Vonn also had some good fortune amid everything else. Had it not been for the weather delays, her shin may not have healed enough for her to win the downhill. And that victory, after wondering whether she would even be able to race, will become the stuff of U.S. skiing legend, missing only a bloody boot.

"I wish I could have that again because it was so amazing," Vonn said. "It was just so much elation and so much emotion, the most emotional race of my life. The memory of that will definitely stay with me for the rest of my life. The proudest moment was seeing my family after the race and standing on the podium with the national anthem playing. I'll cherish that forever."

Plus, look at it this way. She medaled every race she actually finished.

"I knew this before, but it's different when you have an actual medal in the Olympics," Vonn said. "[You learn] it's just a race, and at the end of the day, you have to fight and attack like any other race. No matter what anyone says, you have to stay focused on your own goals and your own expectations. That's what I did here. But it isn't until you're here and in the starting gate with millions of people expecting you to win and you actually do win [that you really learn it].

"To know that I can achieve that no matter what someone says, that gives me a lot of confidence and I know I can do it again. So I'll be a heck of a lot more prepared for Sochi [2014 Olympics] than I was for Vancouver in the sense that I know I can deal with anything that anyone can throw at me."

Hear that? Vonn will be back, ready to try again. Hopefully, she'll be need no cheese remedies then. Hopefully, she'll be able to ski at her best from start to finish. And, hopefully, the headlines on the magazine covers, iPad screens or whatever communication form we're using then, will be a little more reasonable.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net.