From becoming the first American woman to win the Olympic downhill title to her incredible comebacks from injuries, Lindsey Vonn’s career has been full of inspiring moments…
During my first Games [in Salt Lake City in 2002], 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 that 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. So 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.
Being a responsible athlete
I think that of course every professional athlete has a responsibility because they’re in the public eye, but especially at the Olympic Games. As Americans, when we get to the Games we have meetings about etiquette and how to represent our flag and our country and what it means, because it’s more than just yourself. You’re representing your entire country and so those are the kinds of things as an athlete you can be really proud to stand behind.
First and foremost I’m an athlete and that’s always been my number one priority. Training, sleeping, eating well – all those things come first and if I have extra time then I can do social media and I can do events and things like that. But I’ve never lost sight of what’s most important to me. Ski racing is my love, it’s my passion; and I need to accomplish my dreams and goals in ski racing and then I can move on to other things. I’ve never lost sight of my goals and that’s been really important and been key to my longevity in ski racing.
My coaches are really great; they know I have a lot on my plate and so does my entire team, so I feel like they definitely take the load off me as much as possible. The more they can simplify things and help me whenever they can, that makes my life easier because it’s hard to bear the burden of interviews and social media and everything that comes with being in this position. But I’m also very thankful to be in this position so it’s nice to have that balance and to have the support system of people like my coaches and my teammates helping me out.
Whenever I am injured, I switch my focus to accomplishing the next task and getting to my goal, which is getting back on snow as soon as possible. So I do whatever it takes. I’m doing therapy twice a day, I’m working out as well, I don’t take days off, I keep grinding and grinding and grinding and a lot of people think that it’s incredible that I’ve come back, but basically it’s just been hard work. When a normal person gets hurt, they have therapy maybe once a day, three or four times a week at maximum. It takes a lot longer to come back because they just don’t have the time; they have a real job and most likely a family and other things going on, so it’s really difficult. But for me, my singular focus is coming back from those injuries and that’s why I’ve been able to come back stronger and overcome things that may seem impossible to overcome.
The secret to success
It’s definitely not luck! I never thought I’m the most talented person. I’m not the most athletic. I think I have a good feel for ski racing, I have a good technique but nothing has really come very easily to me. I think it’s the fact that I love what I do and I’m willing to work exceptionally hard to accomplish my goals that sets me apart and has allowed me to be so successful in ski racing.
The best advice
The biggest piece of advice I have received is just to never change who I am. A lot of people over the years have tried to change my technique and say I need to adapt and be different, but the best I’ve gotten is just to be who I am and that honestly is what makes me different. That’s what makes me good at ski racing: it’s because I am different. Being like everyone else is not a good thing. You’ve got to be yourself.
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 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.