James Lawton: The all-American girl who even has Canada praying for a lucky break

Lindsey Vonn is the pin-up star of skiing – now the Games need her to compete despite a worrying injury

You can just see the snow on the mountains but downtown it is doing what it does so often. It is raining, soft, relatively warm rain but then it once did this for 17 straight days and a visiting photographer from the
National Geographic claimed he was driven near crazy while holed up in his hotel room.

Then he woke to the cleanest blue-rinsed sky he had ever seen after a fall of snow and declared he was picturing paradise.

Such is the hope here at the dawn of the XXI Winter Olympics and as fervent wishes go it is rivalled only by the one of the suddenly embattled cover girls of alpine sport, Lindsey Vonn.

The 25-year-old skier from Minnesota arrived here this week carrying whole canisters of the oxygen upon which events such as these depend so desperately.

Set for a possible three gold medals in the downhill, the combined and the Super G – and the biggest potential one-woman Olympic impact since her compatriot, the now forlorn Marion Jones travelled to the Sydney summer games of 2000 – she is by far the most feted athlete here.

She also owns a double triumph guaranteed to provoke wholesale drooling in both the seafront suites of Olympic leaders and the executives offices of NBC television in New York – a Sports Illustrated cover picture and a splash in the magazine's fabled swimsuit edition in successive weeks.

Not even such legendary downhillers Franz Klammer and Jean-Claude Killy enjoyed such fanfare – and the possibility of 10 major sponsorships that would send her hurtling into the Forbes list of sport's super-wealthy. In America, still the key to financial success for any Olympics, they have had to go back to the speed skating sensation of Eric Heiden and the US hockey team at Lake Placid 30 years ago for a measurement of Vonn's importance to the TV ratings.

Unfortunately, going down mountain slopes at improbable speeds is not accompanied by guarantees and Vonn's revelation here yesterday that she is fighting excruciating pain after a training injury in Austria last week was not so much a convulsion as an invitation to panic.

She was on the slopes yesterday, insisting she would fight on despite extreme pain when she put on her ski-boots. The glory – not to mention the loot – would not be easily discarded, a point confirmed by her decision to reduce the swelling on her shin by wrapping it in Austrian cheese.

However, if you want a degree of perspective it is most easily available in the British compound, where 19 skiers and snowboarders owe their presence to the £100,000 whip-round launched by British Olympic Association chairman Colin Moynihan in the wake of the collapse of Snowsport GB – and a government refusal to bail out a key part of a team which is promising to improve sharply on the one medal gleaned in Turin four years ago, a mark that put the hosts of the 2012 summer Olympics alongside Belarus, Bulgaria and Slovakia.

This has not, of course, prevented a message of encouragement from the Prime Minister.

Moynihan makes the stinging comparison between support of the summer athletes over a four year period – £400m – against the £6.5m devoted to the winter athletes, which he points out is just 1.5 per cent of the amount which helped fuel the British bonanza in Beijing in 2008. "It is a not a good effort when you think we are hosting the next summer Olympics and we must hope that success here will bring a new dawn for British winter sports.

"Down the years the Winter Olympics have thrown up success against the odds which have brought great pleasure in our country and with the increasing popularity of winter sports you just have to hope that the disaster which has been averted here will prove to be a good thing, that it will concentrate attention on something that is plainly wrong."

Zoe Gillings, Britain's most promising contender in snowboarding, the most upwardly mobile of events here which could see the American prodigy Shaun White as the biggest winner if the Vonn phenomenon does slew off course, says, "The good thing is that we are here and able to compete, that we have been given the right conditions and back-up and of course we are grateful for all the work that has made it possible.

"My response to the situation is simple enough. I feel privileged to be able to compete at this level in a sport I love and one I know is capturing the imagination of a lot of young people. When I first snowboarded, after skiing on holidays with parents as a youngster, I knew that this was what I wanted to do more than any other sport and it's great to have the chance to help kids in Britain who share my passion.

"As I see it, I've been given a great opportunity and you can be sure I'll be putting in everything I have."

Meanwhile, the hope is that the girl from Minnesota, who learnt to ski on a mountain in her native state of mostly flat, lake-dotted farmland, so small that it has been referred to derisively as a "speed bump" by natives of the big slopes of Colorado and Idaho, will find again at least some of the fitness and nerve that has given her a stunning 31 World Cup victories and made her a double world champion.

It is not, heaven knows, an insubstantial projection given her extraordinary record of resilience. She competed in the Turin Olympics in four events despite a 70mph wipe-out two days before the start which left her with back and pelvic injuries. Her chances were remote, she knew, but she insisted that she wouldn't quit, not after all the work and all the expectations.

She almost severed her right thumb in a mishap which followed one of her greatest triumphs, two gold medals in last year's world championships in Val d'Isère. It happened when she opened a bottle of champagne. Last December in a World Cup downhill she split open her tongue when her knee bounced into her face on a winning World Cup downhill in Lake Louise. Shortly afterwards doctors told her she had broken her arm in a giant slalom crash in Austria.

Her husband, Thomas, a former member of the US Ski team, recalls, "It was such a violent crash it could have been a knee blow-out for sure. When they said broken arm, I was actually relieved. And of course, before we even knew, she was immediately asking what she would have to do to ski with a broken arm. With skiers who get hurt, sometimes it takes months or years before they move ahead. Lindsey just goes on. It is normal."

It's a record which suggests both an uncommon will and absolute competitive integrity, but there is nowhere like an Olympics to foster a good conspiracy theory. Some are leaning to the belief that given the already high expectation, Vonn is both priming interest with her injury crisis – and perhaps also guarding against any excessively negative reaction if she fails to deliver on the promise that has brought such excitement to the viewing-figure projections back in New York.

Inevitably, there are other heroes and heroines waiting to seize the highest ground, not least Vonn's male team-mate, the extrovert, enigmatic Bode Miller, and the Canadian ice hockey supernova and captain Sidney Crosby, who is being spoken of as the natural heir to Wayne Gretzky, aka The Great One. However, for the moment any supplanting of Lindsey Vonn would be more than unseemly. It would be quite shocking.

She is needed here quite as much as the snow. You can make the white stuff. A great and beautiful queen of the mountains really has to be born.

Sport
Lionel Messi pictured after reaching the final
world cup 2014
Sport
Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller have shone brightest for Argentina and Germany respectively on their way to the World Cup final
Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?