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Vonn Fires Up Vail for 2010
VAIL, CO The start of the 2010 World Cup season is still two months away, but Vail sparked a blizzard of excitement early as hundreds crowded sunny Vail Square Friday to meet and cheer two-time World Cup overall champion Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO).
"I grew up here in Vail and I'm so happy to be back," said the U.S. Ski Team ace, who worked her way through the Ski and Snowboard Club Vail alpine program long before securing her spot as the greatest female racer with two World Championship gold medals and her 22nd World Cup victory last season. "It's incredible to see so many people out celebrating ski racing in August. It feels like a bib draw in Europe, only it's not cold or snowing."
As Vonn made her way to the stage she high fived rows of youngsters before meeting U.S. Ski Team greats Tamara McKinney, Cindy Nelson and Christin Cooper at the base of the stage. Also, there to offer a hug was teammate and fellow Vail local Sarah Schleper and 12-time Paralympic gold medalist Sarah Will, who was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame last week along with Vonn's childhood hero Picabo Street.
"We've all been amazed at what Lindsey is able to do going 70 mph on skis," said McKinney, whose record of 19 World Cup wins was smashed by Vonn last season. "But it's what she does for the ski racing community that makes her so special. She works hard everyday to get to this level. She's an inspiration and she's the first person to thank all the people that helped her along the way. That includes you, Vail."
Following speeches of praise from Canadian World Cup great Todd Brooker, Vail Mayor Dick Cleveland, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail Director Aldo Radamus, the original U.S. Ski Team coach Bob Beattie and McKinney, Vonn was saluted by one of her biggest fans, 10-year-old Vail racer Nellie Talbot.
“I'm really happy that you're moving back to Vail and I'm looking forward to seeing you on the mountain and getting to know you better,” Talbot said. “And as everyone probably knows, you're a person I look up to so hopefully I can be as good as you someday, and follow in your tracks.”
Vonn smiled, hugged the young girl and entertained the loudly cheering crowd with stories of growing up on the local slopes.
"I remember hiking Mushroom Bowl and wondering why we had to hike when there were perfectly good lifts to use. At the time I hated my coach, but the epic powder we found changed that in a hurry," said Vonn. "I also remember ducking out of a slip run for a quick cup of hot cocoa and getting a pretty big scolding for that one. It made me a better person. I definitely never skipped a slip run after that."
That better person became a double World Champion last season winning gold in both downhill and super G in Val d'Isere, France, a momentum she'd like to carry into the 2010 Olympic Winter Games this coming February.
"If I continue to work hard and stay focused, I know that I can win," said Vonn. "But for me, it's not a matter of winning multiple medals at the Olympics. Even if I win just one bronze, I'll be happy. I've never won an Olympic medal and the reason I started ski racing was to be on the podium at the Olympics. That's the goal."
Vonn's World Cup season opens Oct. 24 with the annual giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, yet she and the U.S. Ski Team will spend much of September in Portillo and Valle Nevado, Chile training before moving to the glaciers of Austria for final preparations.
The U.S. Olympic Team for alpine will be named in late January 2010, a few weeks prior to Opening Ceremonies in Vancouver.
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FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS