For instance, if snow starts falling right before you ski, slowing down the course, “it’s more than likely that you won’t win it, even if you are the favorite,” says fellow American Ted Ligety, a gold medalist in Turin.
Vonn knows this too well to get caught up in the hype.
She also knows that, whatever comes next, this gold medal is special. It is the first-ever Olympic gold for an American woman in the downhill, meaning that Vonn has accomplished what her idol, Picabo Street, could not.
“I can’t stop crying,” she said. “This is everything that I ever wanted and hoped for.”
To her, truly, everything from here on out might just be dessert.
But the way she won will only raise expectations.
A race or a test of nerve?
For most of the day, the downhill was engrossing less as a race than as a test of fortitude. The top of the course resembled a highway rumble strip, with the skiers’ legs turned to churning shock-absorbers of flesh and straining muscle.
As Canadian skier Emily Brydon said: “I was not skiing the course, the course was skiing me.”
By the time skiers reached the Hot Air jump – the last on the course – their speed was in the red, and their legs, spent. The result was three tremendous crashes right at the finish line.
In the most harrowing, the jump launched Swede Anja Paerson – who was in second place at the last interval – more than 200 feet down the slope. The concussion of landfall snapped her legs out from under her as she slid past the finish.