Ready, Set, Vancouver!
02/15/2010 at 01:00 AM EST
IS THE THIRD TIME HER CHARM?
Lindsey Vonn has two World Cup titles and over 30 Cup wins. But, she says, coming in a disappointing seventh after a fall at the 2006 Olympics "was the best thing to happen to me." Vonn wiped out during practice and, throughout the night in an Italian hospital, thought she might never ski again. "You don't realize what you have until it's gone," says Vonn, 25, of St. Paul. "It opened my eyes to how lucky I am to do what I love." After two medal-free Olympics, she's trying again. "As a kid, you don't dream of World Cups, you dream of an Olympic medal." To help realize that dream, she lifts weights, cycles (listening to Jay-Z or watching Law & Order) and trains with her coach/husband, former Olympian Thomas Vonn, 34. "If I'm freaking out, he knows just what to say. At Worlds last year he told jokes at the starting gate. The anxiety went away—and I won."
INSIDE A SIGNATURE MOVE: WHAT WAS HE THINKING?
In the snowboard-to-English dictionary, a "frontside double cork 1080" means being airborne long enough to execute two backflips and spin like a top for three 360-degree revolutions. But to gold-medalist Shaun White, that's already overanalyzing a move that has flummoxed his competition. While doing this, or the other half-dozen "air" moves in his run, "there's no time to think. It's just seconds," says the Carlsbad, Calif., native, 23, who safely tests gravity's hold by practicing over a foam pit. "You let your body take over. I've done it for so long that when I'm not thinking, I'm riding the best."
1 The takeoff is everything. I'm thinking, 'I can do this!'
2 The tighter the ball you are in, the faster you spin.
3 Into the second flip, you don't want to panic and land upside down.
4 Now I'm thinking, 'Thank God I'm out of this.' Four more to do.
ON THE MOMMY TRACK—AT 90 MPH
Skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace whooshes downhill (face first!) at death-defying speeds. But at home in Eagle Mountain, Utah, she can barely keep up with her 2-year-old daughter. "Lacee has more energy than anyone," says Pikus-Pace, 27. "She's all over the place." Competing keeps Pikus-Pace on the road up to five months a year. Her husband, Janson, 29, and sister Amanda Yates, 31, lend a hand, though so do video calls home on Skype. "Lacee smiles and says, 'Mommy, I love you!'" Pikus-Pace missed out on the 2006 Games due to a broken leg after a four-man bobsled mowed her down. But post-Vancouver she plans to focus on her family and a hat design business. "I'm ready to be home," she says. "That's where my heart is."
Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig
IN PERFECT SYNC, THEY MAKE A CUTE COUPLE (BUT ONLY ON THE ICE)
Their short program is choreographed to music from the film Love Actually. And when Amanda Evora and her partner of seven years, Mark Ladwig, glide over the ice with eyes passionately locked, it can look a lot like love, actually.
Don't believe it. He's married with a new baby, and she's been dating Jeremy Barrett—who, with Caydee Denney, is half of the other U.S. pairs team headed to Vancouver—since 2005. But Amanda, 25, and Mark, 29, have to move totally in tandem. Starting at 10 a.m., they begin skating (together and apart) at a rink in Ellenton, Fla., and spend more than four hours lifting weights, doing cardio—and refueling with all the carbs they want (and, in Amanda's case, ice cream as a reward). Mark usually bench-presses 135 lbs., about 35 percent more than Amanda weighs. Amanda lifts weights to strengthen her upper body so she can hold those difficult airborne poses. At the end of an exhausting day Amanda meets up with her boyfriend/competitor Barrett, and Mark goes home to wife Janet and 5-month-old son Holden. "It's a whirlwind," Mark says. "But I relish every second of it."
READY, AIM, FIRE—VERY CAREFULLY
Once every four years, Americans remember biathlon, a mash-up of cross-country skiing and target shooting that is far more popular in Europe. The key to the sport, according to Tim Burke—who is the U.S.'s best chance to finally medal in the event—lies not just in skiing quickly or shooting accurately, but in the moments between the two. "My heart is going 200 beats a minute, skiing. I have to slow it down enough to hit a target," says the Lake Placid, N.Y., resident, 28. "You really have to calm yourself and focus. It takes years of doing it over and over to be able to shoot under so much stress." Not to add to the pressure, but Burke, recently ranked No. 1 in the world, could well make history. "If it happens I'm the first, I'd be incredibly honored."
BEHIND THE SEQUINS: HOW HE CREATES AN OLYMPIC COSTUME
"My look is totally unique—and not always in a good way!" admits Johnny Weir. He's okay with that. Weir, 25, designs his costumes to tell a story. To a sleek black masculine outfit for his short program, he adds a corset and pink ruffles. "People think, 'Where did that come from?' It's been very publicized, my gender-bending," says Weir. "I wasn't thinking of just what was sexual for a man, but also for a woman." His long program "Fallen Angels" is inspired by his own career arc—a three-time U.S. champ, he faltered at the last Olympics. "I can reach heavenly highs and be down in hell the next minute." He and seamstress Stephanie Handler realized his idea with crystals, sequins and fox fur, soon to be replaced with fake fur, in deference to animal lovers. "My costumes are never about making waves. I wear things that make me feel beautiful so I can do my best."
HIS FAVE! THE SWAN
For his 2006 Turin ensemble, Weir named his glove-beak Camille, after composer Camille Saint-Saëns.
His sketch included slashes on the back "to represent wings ripped out."
Featuring a shattered disco-ball arm, this exhibition outfit "needed to make Lady Gaga proud!" says Weir.
Who in the World?
FIVE FOREIGN ATHLETES TO WATCH
SIDNEY CROSBY, 22
One of professional hockey's most celebrated players, Crosby leads a favored Canadian team. Having already won the NHL's scoring title and MVP award, Crosby steered his team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, to the Stanley Cup title a year ago.
ANDREA HENKEL, 32
Born in Ilmenau, East Germany, she moved to Oberhof, Germany, after the Berlin Wall fell, to hone her rifle technique. She and her sister Manuela, 35, both won gold at the 2002 Games, and she dates U.S. biathlon star Tim Burke (see page 106).
KWAME NKRUMAH-ACHEAMPONG, 35
Nicknamed the Snow Leopard, he didn't actually see snow until 2002. Though born in Scotland, Nkrumah-Acheampong was raised in Ghana. He is his country's first athlete to compete in the Winter Games.
WANG BINGYU, 25
The skipper of the 2009 world champion team—making its Olympic debut—said curling is "like flying on ice." She actually started out playing hockey, but her father, a hockey coach, told her she was too small and suggested her new sport.
KIM YU-NA, 19
South Korea/Figure Skating
The 2009 world champion—and favorite going into Vancouver—has a cell phone named after her and legions of fans. But at 8, she was too nervous to meet her idol Michelle Kwan. "I was so shy I ran away," she told NBC.
5 COOL FACTS ABOUT:
Apolo Anton Ohno
He has 5 Olympic medals—plus 1 mirror-ball trophy from his 2007 win on Dancing with the Stars. If he nabs two more medals in Vancouver, the short track speed skater, 27, will unseat Bonnie Blair as the most decorated U.S. winter athlete. But did you know . . .
1 HE'S AIRBORNE
An Ohno sponsor, Alaska Airlines, put his image on a plane (below). "I signed the plane, then got to ride in it. Pretty crazy."
2 HE'S A SPA FREAK (AND MAN ENOUGH TO SAY SO)
"I'd love being massaged every day."
3 OFF THE ICE, HE DRESSES UP
"I will bring back the three-piece suit! Do a nice shave, throw on a three-piece—you feel refreshed."
4 HIS DREAM RACE: CONAN VS. COLBERT
"I will be the referee. What Stephen Colbert [left] has done for our sport [getting viewers to raise funds for the U.S. team] is remarkable."
5 HE'S AVAILABLE
"I am single and don't have time for dating right now, but after the Games I will, so watch out!"