On the eve of the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, American Lindsey Vonn talked openly about the highs and lows of her life and career – even sharing her thoughts on indoor skiing in Dubai. Adam Szreter reports from St Moritz
It’s hard to know where to start telling Lindsey Vonn’s story. With the records and medals, including Olympic and world championship gold? With the staggering list of crashes and injuries she has recovered from? The work she does for women through the Lindsey Vonn Foundation? Or with the superstar lifestyle involving talk shows, photo-shoots and even a spell as a television news reporter at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games?
This last experience was Vonn’s way of dealing with yet another injury, one that meant she was unable to defend the Olympic downhill title she won four years earlier in Vancouver. But she has vowed to be back on the Olympic stage in a year’s time in PyeongChang.
“Missing Sochi was a big disappointment for me,” she said in St Moritz before starting out on her quest for three more world titles to add to the two she won at Val-d'Isère in 2009. “I felt after Vancouver that I’d really figured out how to ski well in the Olympics, and I want an opportunity to try and get another Olympic medal.”
But no one knows better than Vonn that much can happen between now and then. The fact that she is on the start line in St Moritz is a minor miracle. After crashing in the first race at the 2013 World Championships, she tore ligaments and fractured a bone in her knee, and although she returned to competition several times it was not until she underwent surgery that it was fully repaired.
She suffered another knee injury that curtailed her season last winter, and then in November she broke her arm and lost the use of her right hand for a while. “My hand is getting better,” she said. “I can hold a ski pole, I can shake people’s hands. I can’t quite put my hair in a ponytail yet but I can do my makeup.”
Having been written off yet again, Vonn returned to competition at the start of this year and won the downhill at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany in only her second event back. It was her 77th World Cup title. But if that was one step forward, it was arguably two steps back the following week at Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy where she fell twice. “I’m definitely in a better place after winning at Garmisch, although crashing twice at Cortina was a bit of a setback,” she admitted.
“But I’m going in to these World Championships pretty confident. This is a good slope for me, I’ve won a number of World Cup titles here. At the World Championships the only thing that matters is medals, there are no World Cup points at stake and fourth is probably the worst place to be. So I’ll ski my best. Either I’m going to win or I’ll go out.”
Vonn has already won more World Cup victories than any other female skier in history, and her win in Garmisch put her within touching distance of the all-time record of 86 held by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark. Given all that she has achieved (she is one of only two women to win four overall World Cup titles) and endured (there were also heavy crashes at the 2006 Olympics and 2007 World Championships), the question had to be asked: does she still enjoy it?
“It’s always fun,” she replied without hesitation. “If it wasn’t it would be very difficult to come back after so many injuries. I love what I do. I love the adrenaline of going fast and competing. I love all of it.”
And winning? “It’s a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. It’s something special, when you’re standing at the top of the podium and you were the best on that day. And it’s all because of the hours you put in during the off-season.”
Away from the slopes, helping others less fortunate or talented than herself is close to Vonn’s heart. “I’m always very open on social media with my fans,” she said. “Probably the biggest feedback I’ve had is that overcoming all my injuries has inspired them to be more active and healthy, so that’s one of the best things that’s come out of my career.” The Lindsey Vonn Foundation, meanwhile, is all about empowering girls and young women through scholarships, education and athletics.
Her work with the foundation gives Vonn a natural interest in creating new sporting opportunities for everyone, particularly skiing of course. She is well aware of Ski Dubai, the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East, and the world’s longest indoor ski slope, even if she has not yet paid it a visit. “I know about the slope in Dubai,” she said. “My friend Maria Höfl-Riesch and the German team used to train there. It’s great to spread the sport of ski racing to countries that otherwise might not be able to experience it. It’s something different and I would love to go there.”
Before then Vonn has work to do if she wants to add more titles to her portfolio, starting this week in St Moritz where she is due to take part in the downhill, super-G and combined disciplines. Win or lose her legacy is already assured, but going back to a ‘normal’ life without thrills and spills is not on the agenda any time soon.
“I don’t think I know what that means any more,” she said. “This is my normal. It’s just who I am, this is my life, I want to share it and hopefully inspire some people along the way.”