The superstar shares her thoughts on her comeback season, her future goals and her foundation
Do you remember the 6th of December? That’s the day that Lindsey Vonn won her first race in nearly two years, surprising everyone — including herself — with her swift leap back to the top of the podium, at Lake Louise. The long rehab from crashing and two separate knee surgeries were behind her; questions of her being able to compete at the same level were crushed under her Head boots.
Vonn was back. And recently, she was back in the U.S. Ski Team’s training town of Park City, ready to sit down and look back — and forward — with SkiRacing.com.
“Things have gone a lot better this year than I ever could have anticipated — I wasn’t really sure where I would stack up,” she confessed. “Being gone for almost two years is a long time and a lot can change, but when I won the second race in Lake Louise I was like, ‘OK, I’m back where I was before,’ and I just kept fighting the whole season. Sometimes I didn’t quite have the speed and I didn’t quite have the rhythm, but for the most part I had a lot of confidence.”
That confidence carried her through eight World Cup wins — the most among all women — and tied with Marcel Hirscher for the most on tour. She won two more discipline globes, one apiece in super G and downhill, to bring her record total to 19, tying her with Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark.
But perhaps the biggest moment of the season came in January in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy, when she won her 63rd World Cup race, passing AnneMarie Moser-Proell to claim the women’s World Cup record.
“Since breaking the record, I feel like there’s been a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders, and from here on out I’m just going to try and win as many races as I can and just see where it goes,” said Vonn. “I’ll just keep skiing until I don’t have fun or until my knee says I have to stop.”
For the most part of two years, that women’s World Cup record was all anyone wanted to talk about — that and Vonn’s knee injuries. It began in 2013 after she won her 59th World Cup leading up to the World Championships in Schladming. That was when bad luck hit — in the form of a soft-snow landing off a jump, in questionable conditions, resulting in a torn knee.
But after two years of vigorous rehab and determination, the record now sits at 67 and counting. Vonn ended her season on a high note and won the final two speed races of the year in Meribel, France, to put a dramatic cap on an incredible comeback campaign. Now the talk has turned from doubts on her racing to doubts on anyone else stopping her..
At the Vail/Beaver Creek 2015 World Champs, Vonn added GS to her season, and after a fifth place at World Cup Finals, she has set her sights on reclaiming the overall title next winter.
“It’s going to be tough, but my GS is actually pretty good,” said Vonn. “I just need a little bit more training, and hopefully with that event and more consistency in downhill and super G, I can be competing with those other two girls.” She laughed at the reference to Tina Maze and Anna Fenninger.
That easy going attitude has resurfaced this season for Vonn, revived from her break from the sport and revved with a new love of skiing and appreciation for her career. Even in 2013, before Vonn’s first injury, Maze had taken over as the most dominant woman on tour, and Vonn looked to be losing some of the fire and motivation that had fueled her for the better part of a decade. The time away provided some clarity, and Vonn said that the crystal globes she earned this season have the most sparkle.
“Even though I have 19, these two are probably the most special of all of them,” she said. “Pretty much everyone didn’t think I would be back. For myself and everyone who doubted me, this is a pretty good answer, and I’m happy to be back.”
Vonn’s recent success reflects well on teammates, too. “It’s really cool to see her skiing exactly how she wants to be skiing,” said Julia Mancuso earlier in the season. “I’m just happy to be a part of a team where she’s able to break records and push the limit. It’s super-impressive, especially after such a big injury, I think it means even more.”
Then there is the light shed on ski racing because of her ascendency to becoming one of the greatest athletes of all time; no other skier has made a name for herself in the team-sports dominated American media like Vonn.
“She has done so much for the sport, because she’s a real superstar, and that makes alpine skiing more popular in the U.S. and Europe,” said Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein. “We need people like that for our sport.”
During a recent Vail Resorts promotional event at Park City Mountain Resort, Vonn’s popularity was on full display. Within minutes of finishing her interview with Park City and Canyons COO Bill Rock, she was swarmed by casual skiers who realized they were in the proximity of a legend. She took photos and signed autographs, a smile never leaving her face.
“Lindsey’s a great ambassador with for us with Vail Resorts,” said Rock of Vonn’s visit. “She loves to talk with little kids who are involved in ski racing, and to get her out here to get the word out about the investment we are making is awesome, but even better that she is spending time with little kids and talking about what it takes to be a winner is really important.”
Meanwhile, Vonn has also launched a foundation that will seek to empower girls as athletes, learners, and individuals. She launched the Lindsey Vonn Foundation during the final weekend of World Championships, telling USSA that she hopes to have an impact on young girls just as Picabo Street had on her as a kid. The plan is to grow the foundation slowly over the next few years and then she will spend “a lot more time on it” upon her retirement.
But for now, that retirement is nowhere in sight. With a full, healthy and successful season out of the way, Vonn is excited about the prospect of a “normal preparation period” during which she can train in all three events and prepare to fight with Fenninger and Maze for overall supremacy.
“I definitely appreciate everything that I’ve accomplished,” said Vonn. “But I still want to focus on the future and everything that I have left to do.”