02 Jan 2019
Since making her Olympic debut for the USA as a 17-year-old in 2002, Lindsey Vonn has become one of the most decorated alpine skiers in history, winning three Olympic medals and a record 82 World Cup races. Here, she reflects on the highs and lows of an incredible career and what she hopes her legacy will be.
MY EARLIEST OLYMPIC MEMORIES
I remember watching the Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998 on television; that was a really profound moment for me. Seeing Hermann Maier have that epic crash [in the men’s downhill], and then come back to win two gold medals [in the super-G and giant slalom] was so inspiring, and also watching Picabo Street win her gold medal in the women’s super-G. She’s been a huge influence on my life and my career, and was really the one who inspired me to want to become an Olympian. That was a pretty awesome Games to watch as a spectator.
As soon as they announced that Salt Lake City would host the Olympic Winter Games in 2002, I tried to make a plan with my dad on how I could make it there, so we were focused on that for a long time. It’s always a dream until it becomes a reality, so I wasn’t sure that it would happen, but I was thankful that it did. And it was incredible; I have so many great memories from those Games. Walking in the Opening Ceremony was incredibly emotional for everyone and I experienced an immense feeling of pride to be American at that moment. It was more than I ever dreamed of.
During the Games, I remember watching all the older athletes and seeing how much pressure they were under. I think it was a good lesson for me because they really had a hard time with it, and I was able to watch and learn from it. I had no nerves myself because I had no expectation. I was out there trying to get experience and just do the best that I could. It was very interesting to see it from a different perspective because, after those Games, I was a favourite most of the time. It was the only time I was really able to experience the Olympic Games as an underdog and as someone who was there more for the experience and less for the medals.
A LIFE-CHANGING GOLD MEDAL
The Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010 were so incredible. There was a lot of pressure on me going into the Games, and with my shin injury and everything else that was going on, it was pretty overwhelming. To come away with a gold and a bronze was incredible. That experience was unforgettable, and I think one of the most clutch performances of my career. My life really changed after Vancouver. I had won a lot of World Cups coming in [to the Games], and World Championships, but nothing could even come close to what happened after winning gold. Suddenly I was known in the United States, where I had never really been recognised before, and I was offered a lot more opportunities and invited to a lot more events. It basically changed my career path entirely.
I had a lot of great years where I wasn’t injured, but when I had my first knee injury in 2013 that really started a trend of injuries over the next few years. It was really hard to miss the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014. I definitely struggled with that, but I came back and – because I missed Sochi – I think that made me even more hungry and more determined to be in PyeongChang, and to be able to compete again at one final Games.
MY FINAL GAMES
PyeongChang was different in many ways, mostly because it was my last Olympic Games, but also because of my grandfather passing away [in November 2017] and me wanting to win for him. There were so many emotions throughout the Games and it really made it very different from any other race or event in my career, in a very positive way. It was a ride, and one that I’m very proud to have taken.
I think I made my grandfather proud. In the end, I gave it absolutely everything I had. I didn’t ski nervously; I skied with passion and heart. Bronze [in the downhill] honestly felt like gold to me. It was an amazing Games and a great way to close out my Olympic career. Looking back, I’m just grateful. I’m grateful that I’ve had so many opportunities to represent my country. I think I’ve done everything I set out to do at the Games, and I couldn’t be happier.
LEAVING A LEGACY
The experience of the Olympic Games will leave a long-lasting impact on my life, and I want to share that Olympic spirit with the next generation and hopefully one day with my kids as well. That’s what I’ll take away from the Games, more so than the medals, and that’s why I’m an ambassador for the Youth Olympic Games. It’s also why I have my own foundation – the Lindsey Vonn Foundation.
My mission is to empower and inspire the next generation of girls. I think we all do the best job that we can to filter down the success and the empowerment that we feel at the Olympic Games to the schools and the kids, so they can achieve anything they set out to achieve. They can have those dreams and realise there is no glass ceiling.