Strained relationship with father for top US skier

Updated: February 9, 2010, 5:14 PM ET
Associated Press

The Vancouver Olympics are shaping up to be Lindsey Vonn's shining moment, the apex of a career that began years ago when her father introduced her to skiing. He saw enough talent in his daughter to move the whole family to Colorado.

Yet Alan Kildow, himself a former competitive skier, will almost certainly have to watch on television, not in person, when Vonn competes as perhaps the biggest U.S. star of the Winter Games. They had a falling out a few years ago.

Vonn does not like to discuss the estrangement, but by all accounts the feud began before the 2006 Turin Olympics.

"He always supported me when I did well, which was 90 percent of the time, but when I didn't, he didn't handle it very well," Vonn told the Denver Post a few months before those games. "It was so hot and cold. It was so much criticism and so much negativity, and it was really hard to balance my emotions."

It's become an off-limits subject for all concerned. Kildow, a Minneapolis lawyer, is happy to chat about his daughter's skiing, just not the source -- or extent -- of the rift.

"I don't get into the details," Kildow told The Associated Press in a recent telephone interview. "She's my daughter, I love her, and in that sense it's great."

The tension escalated with Lindsey's relationship with Thomas Vonn, a former U.S. Olympic skier who is nearly nine years older. Kildow disapproved, but the two were married in 2007, and Vonn became the rock in her life.

For that, Lindsey's mother, Linda Krohn, couldn't be happier. No need to worry as her daughter travels all around Europe.

"He's so good to her, so that she only has to worry about ski racing," said Krohn, who was divorced from Kildow in 2003 and now lives in Apple Valley, a suburb of Minneapolis. "It's a wonderful relationship."

Krohn has hardly missed a race this season, getting up in the early morning to watch her daughter's competitions on the Internet. She sits close to the fire with her cat, Cocoa, always close by.

After each race, Krohn sends off an e-mail to her daughter to say how proud she is. The response is typically the same: "Thanks, Mom. I love you," with a little smiley face.

In another suburb of Minneapolis, Kildow watches, too. He takes in the competitions with a keen eye.

What he sees is the skier he pretty much always envisioned, the one who at 17 showed a glimpse of her great promise, making her first Olympic team in 2002 and finishing sixth in the combined in Salt Lake City.

"Technically, she is so perfect," Kildow said. "The hip position, the shoulder position, the hand position -- she's the best. ... I think Lindsey is the best now as far as I've ever seen. Of course, I'm biased."

In 2006, competing as Lindsey Kildow, she suffered a harrowing crash during a training run for the Turin Games, slamming into the frozen course at 50 mph. She was hospitalized and failed to medal when she came back.

Vonn has blossomed into one of the top skiers in U.S. team history. She is the first American woman to win back-to-back overall World Cup championships, in 2008 and 2009. She's one victory shy of matching Bode Miller's national record of 32 World Cup victories and is closing in on her third consecutive World Cup overall and downhill titles.

She's already secured her second straight super-G crown after winning in St. Moritz, Switzerland, last month. In the Vancouver Games, she'll ski all five women's Alpine races -- downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and super-combined -- and is an overwhelming favorite in the downhill.

Kildow's own promising skiing career was cut short by a knee injury. While he's quick to say she doesn't need his advice, he credits his daughter's success to an extreme work ethic and fearlessness on the slopes.

"The ability to hold the throttle down when most reasonable people would let up on the throttle -- Lindsey has that," he said.

Kildow calls his daughter and drops her e-mails, just to check in. Whether she responds, he wouldn't say. "That's between her and I."

Thomas Vonn said the relationship has not thawed.

"Nothing has changed there, but that's as far as we really comment on it," he said. "She chooses not to speak with him, and there's nothing really going on there at all."

Lindsey's mother plans to be front and center at the Vancouver Games, which begin Friday. So possibly will some of Vonn's four siblings, who include a set of triplets and another sister.

They've been building for this practically all Vonn's life. She first strapped on skis at age 2. As a preteen, she commuted to Colorado to train before the family moved to Vail in the late 1990s.

She burst onto the world skiing scene at age 14, when she won the slalom at Italy's Trofeo Topolino competition for skiers aged 11-14, the first American female to take the event.

For the family to leave friends behind so Vonn could pursue a skiing career was a difficult choice for sure, but there was never really any animosity.

"They understood how good she was," Krohn said. "We had a fun life out there."

Kildow, on the other hand, will probably watch from home as Vonn, now 25, competes at the Olympics. He said it would be wonderful to see her climb the medal stand, but he said that as a trial lawyer, he's wary of predicting outcomes.

"I'm cautious about those types of things," he said. "Don't write your victory speeches in the starting gates. Just do your best. I'm sure she will."

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AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf contributed to this story.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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