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Vonn Criticizes Olympic Course At Whistler

American skier Lindsey Vonn hopes that improved course conditions can help her win a second gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics.
Clive Mason
Getty Images
American skier Lindsey Vonn hopes that improved course conditions can help her win a second gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics.

A day after U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn crashed and lost a shot at a gold medal in the women's super-combined, she told NPR that the conditions on Whistler Mountain can be challenging and "dangerous."

"They could've done maybe a little bit better job of grooming the hill and making it smoother for the athletes," Vonn told Melissa Block. "It's definitely challenging when you have a long course that's so bumpy, and then at the very end, you have a monstrous jump. And I think that's a little bit dangerous."

Vonn was leading Thursday's two-part event after a strong downhill run, but she hooked the tip of her ski on a gate during the slalom portion and went tumbling.

Listen to Lindsey Vonn talk to NPR's Melissa Block

"You're going 75, 80 miles an hour," Vonn said. "One little mistake and you're crashing down an icy slope and into the net."

Vonn acknowledged that having to make both runs for the super-combined was hard on her bruised right shin. But she denies favoring the leg, as some commentators have suggested.

"When I'm in the starting gate, I just try to stay focused on my skiing, and not my shin," she said.

The course at Whistler Creekside hasn't helped, Vonn said, adding that it's "really the worst kind of course condition you can have for my type of injury."


The 25-year-old skier says she hopes conditions improve for her remaining events. She is favored to win Saturday's super G and will also race in the giant slalom and slalom next week.

Her teammate Ted Ligety tweeted that the hill was "in horrible condition" after his training session Thursday, hours before Vonn's race. And her husband and coach, former Olympic skier Thomas Vonn, has also criticized the course.

Vonn said she appreciated that crews have been working to try to improve the course, which has suffered from the effects of alternating periods of rain and snow. She also acknowledged that all the skiers knew what they were in for after their training runs.

But race officials didn't reduce the height of the massive jump — which can launch skiers into the air for 50 yards — until several skiers had crashed, including six-time medalist Anja Paerson of Sweden.

Vonn said that by the time skiers hit the jump, their legs are already tired from the beating they've taken on the bumpy course.

"You could see that with Anja," Vonn said. "Her legs just gave out, and then [she] went off the jump in a really bad position, and crashed."

Vonn credits an unusual equipment choice for helping her cope with conditions at Whistler: She uses men's skis.

"I use men's skis because, honestly, they work better for me," she said. "They're longer, they're stiffer, they're harder to turn — but at the same time, they're much more stable."

She began using men's skis last fall and said they seemed to be a great advantage.

But with her shin injury, the skis can be a mixed blessing. The longer men's skis help dampen vibrations from the rough course, she said, but they're also harder to turn, increasing the pressure on her shins and boots.

Another of Vonn's choices has made waves in the sport: appearing in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue. Vonn wore a bikini — and occasionally somewhat less than a bikini — for the photos.

"I honestly thought it was a great opportunity," Vonn said. "I mean, I'm not a skinny model, I'm an athlete, I have muscles. And I think that it's great that I'm given the opportunity to show that. It's a lot different body image than what's normally out there."

Vonn plans to return to the Olympics in four years, in Sochi, Russia, but for now she's focused on performing well in her upcoming events. She said she feels confident, especially in the super G.

"The G-S and slalom, maybe I don't feel as strong in," Vonn said, "but I'm still going to go out there and give it my best — and hopefully I can come away with another medal."

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