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Armour: Shiffrin Showdown on Hold, it’s all Vonn in Winter Olympics Downhill

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Lindsey Vonn goes through a training run on Monday in preparation for the women's downhill at the Pyeongchang Olympics. Photo: AP

Lindsey Vonn has the spotlight all to herself.

Rather than a showdown with young American teammate Mikaela Shiffrin, the women’s downhill is now all about the Speed Queen and her pursuit of another gold in her signature event. The spotlight will be squarely on Vonn on Wednesday, regardless of where she finishes.

“I’ve tried not to think about it as being my last Olympic downhill and just focus on the moment, the right here and the right now,” Vonn said Monday.

It’s that here and now that had made the prospect of Vonn and Shiffrin in the downhill so intriguing.

Vonn is, of course, the greatest female ski racer of all time, and it won’t be long before the modifier becomes irrelevant. With 81 World Cup victories, she needs only six more to surpass Ingemar Stenmark’s record.

And Shiffrin might one day pass them both.

A month shy of her 23rd birthday, Shiffrin already has 41 World Cup wins. But most of those have been in the tech events, meaning she and Vonn rarely crossed paths on the World Cup circuit. That changed this season, as Shiffrin began adding speed events to her schedule.

She got her first career downhill win this season – at Lake Louise, of all places, which has been dubbed “Lake Lindsey” for all Vonn’s success there – and last month shared a podium with Vonn in Cortina, Italy.

With Shiffrin hoping to do all five events in Pyeongchang, the idea of seeing her and Vonn, 33, go head-to-head with Olympic gold on the line was one of the most tantalizing storylines of the Games. But the fireworks keep fizzling.

First was Saturday’s Super-G, which Shiffrin dropped after racing the giant slalom and slalom the two previous days. (And taking gold in the GS, for those keeping track.) Now it’s the downhill, which Shiffrin is skipping to focus on the Alpine combined that was moved from Friday to Thursday.

There’s still the combined, where both are expected to be in the medals hunt. But that’s not quite the same as the downhill, the premier race at the Olympics. What could be better than seeing a torch passed at 90 mph?

Then again, it feels right that Vonn gets the spotlight to herself in the race that’s defined her.

For all that she’s achieved, Vonn’s luck at the Olympics has been stunningly bad. She was eighth in the downhill in Turin, two days after she had to be airlifted to a hospital following a scary crash in training. She missed Sochi after reinjuring her knee about six weeks before the Games.

Even in Vancouver, where she won gold in the downhill and bronze in the Super-G, she was skiing with a badly bruised shin.

With one last chance to have the Olympics she wants, Vonn has poured every bit of herself into these Games. The death of her beloved grandfather, Don Kildow, on Nov. 1 only hardened her resolve.

“This time I have a more important mission; win for my late Grandpa,” Vonn said in an Instagram post the night before the Super-G. “He will be watching from the best seat in the house, hopefully looking out for me and guiding me down the mountain.”

Vonn didn’t win the Super-G, tying for sixth after making a mistake in the last turn. But she was upbeat afterward, knowing her best race was still in front of her.

“In general, this season, I feel like I’ve been much better in downhill than Super-G,” Vonn said Saturday. “And this hill, it suits me really well for downhill.”

She’s backed that up so far. She had the fastest time in Sunday’s training run. Despite backing off a bit Monday, she still finished third, .35 seconds behind Austria’s Stephanie Venier.

“I’m not looking to do anything special here in the training runs,” Vonn said Monday. “I just want to get a feeling for the line. I’m trying some different skis every day to seeing what’s running. But, in general, I’m really happy.”

It is only a matter of days before Vonn’s Olympic career is over, and she can see the finish line ahead. But as she’s done for the better part of two decades now, she will not let up until she’s crossed it, pushing hard until the very end.

“You can’t get too sentimental right now because I still have to race, I still have to be focused,” she said. “Afterwards I’ll do some reflecting.”

And savor that one last race that belonged all to her.

By Nancy Armour

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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