The XX Factor

Olympic Girl Drama

This morning U.S. Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn went on the Today Show to say she has an injury-some kind of “deep muscle bruise” or contusion that hurts even when she puts on her boot (video embedded at the bottom of the post). As always with such things, it’s hard to tell whether this is an injury injury, or a prelude to a fantastic drama in which Vonn triumphs over hardship to clinch the gold (insert sports metaphor). The Times profile of Vonn played her crash of 2006 as if she had almost died, and then she was crouched in the start house 48 hours later. In this case, it felt to me like Vonn, who is sometimes radiant and sometimes nervous and subdued, felt the need this morning to lower expectations and take some pressure off.

The bios of Olympians, like James Cameron movies, tend to align with certain archetypes, usually “warrior struggles against hardship and then rises.” Feministing complained this week that the one assigned to Vonn in the New York Times magazine last weekend-pawn caught between domineering men-was sexist. There was something striking in the vast differences between the way the two Olympians singled out for profiles were portrayed-Vonn, uncertain, emotional, ruled by her relationships and then skater Shani Davis-cocky, steady, alone.

But my reaction to the Vonn profile was different. I was touched by the way Vonn seemed to have remade the usual young female athlete/domineering father-figure coach relationship (Williams sisters, Celine Dion). After being ruled by her father for many years, she did the classic woman thing-married an older skier, Thomas Vonn, who became her coach. But their relationship seems full of love and deep understanding. When she insists on doing push ups in the aisle of the plane, he said, “I’ll let her do it for a while. But then I usually have to say, ‘Hon, please come sit down. People are trying to get to the bathroom.” He makes fun of her because she never eats ice cream. And in the critical moments, when she freezes up, he whispers just the right thing in her ears.