15 years at the top of Alpine skiing
Lindsey Vonn brought her sporting career to an end on 10 February 2019, competing at her eighth World Championship in Åre, Sweden, taking a bronze in the downhill. During the 15 years she competed at the highest level, she established herself as one of Alpine skiing’s all-time greats. At Vancouver 2010 she became the USA’s first ever women’s downhill Olympic champion. She set a number of new records for women, including an unmatched 82 World Cup victories, as well as several for men and women, including a record 18 victories on the same course (Lake Louise), 20 crystal globes and 43 downhill victories.
From the plains of Minnesota to the summit of Mount Olympus
The girl who would become an Olympic downhill champion at Vancouver 2010 started skiing at the age of three with her father and grandfather on the gentle slopes of Minnesota. Vonn competed in her first races at the age of seven, and when she was nine she took part in her first international competitions. Subsequent World Junior Championships and World Cup appearances, coupled with a string of good results, led to her being selected for the USA team for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
First games at the age of 17
In Salt Lake City, she finished sixth in the combined and 32nd in the slalom. Two years later, Vonn cemented her position in the elite, stepping onto the downhill podium for the first time.
The following season, she scored her first downhill win in the opening race of the campaign, in Lake Louise (CAN) in December 2004. A specialist in speed events, she also won her first points in the technical events, allowing her to climb the World Cup standings.
That Lake Louise victory was the first of a remarkable 18 career wins at the Canadian resort over the next ten years and the first in a string of successes in the lead-up to her second Olympic appearance, at Turin 2006.
Despite suffering a bad fall in a training run and requiring hospital treatment, the US skier still managed to finish eighth in the Olympic downhill, seventh in the super-G and 14th in the slalom. In 2007, after two world silver medals, she picked up a season-ending injury in a slalom race. Coming back stronger than before, she dominated the overall World Cup standings in 2008 and 2009, a year in which she also won World Championship golds in the downhill and super-G.
2010 also promised to be an auspicious year, as Vonn recorded five consecutive victories in downhill, and four other wins in super-G and combined, only to then injure her tibia in a fall just one week before the Vancouver Games.
She had no intention of leaving Canada without a medal, however, and the postponement of races due to bad weather gave her time to recover. When she launched herself through the start gate for the downhill, she showcased all her talent to become an Olympic champion. The season ended on another high note, as she landed her third big crystal globe.
A severe setback
The US skier was at her very best in the 2011/12 season, recording 12 wins in all: five in the downhill, four in super-G, two in giant slalom and one in the combined. Having already won a slalom event in her career, she joined a very select band of skiers who have won races in every Alpine event, and she ended the season by picking up her fourth big crystal globe.
Then came another serious injury, when on 5 February 2013 she fell heavily in the super-G at the World Championships in Schladming (AUT), heavily damaging her right knee. With just a year to go before Sochi 2014, she faced a race against time to be fit to defend her downhill crown.
She made her World Cup return in November 2013 only for misfortune to strike again in Val d'Isère (FRA) on 21 December, when she damaged her knee again. Forced to undergo surgery once more, she had to sit out Sochi 2014 and watch the action unfold on TV.
New World Cup record
Vonn made a triumphant return in the 2014/15 season, despite having turned 30 by this time. Making the most of her unique style and electric speed, which helped her atone for any mistakes, she scored win after win: four in the downhill and four in super-G.
In posting the 63rd World Cup victory of her World Cup career in Cortina d'Ampezzo (ITA) on 19 January 2015, she moved past the legendary Anne-Marie Moser-Pröll as the most successful skier in the history of the competition. The season ended with Vonn taking receipt of small crystal globes in the downhill and super-G, extending her collection of globes big and small to a record-breaking 19.
The USA’s greatest Alpine skier of all time, Vonn enjoyed an even more successful 2015/16 season, claiming nine wins, including her first giant slalom victory in Åre (SWE) in nearly four years and a 38th downhill victory to move past another old record of Moser-Pröll’s. It was in the downhill that the American earned a 20th crystal globe, though her hopes of winning another overall World Cup crown ended when she fell in the super-G in Soldeu (AND) and suffered a hairline fracture in her left knee, bringing a premature end to her season.
“I’ve won nine World Cup races, set a new record for downhill wins and for podium finishes in super-G, and I’ve now won more crystal globes than any other skier, male or female,” she said at the time. “Stopping has not been an easy decision but I could have damaged myself even more and put my future as an elite skier in danger. With the Olympics coming up in Republic of Korea in a couple of years, I don’t want to be taking any risks.”
Closing in on Stenmark
Vonn endured more injury woes when she broke her right arm in training in November 2016, though she was soon back in action, winning her seventh World Championship medal – a downhill bronze – in St Moritz in February 2017 and then taking her career total of World Cup wins to 82.
Though victorious in four downhill races in all, including the last event of the season – in Åre on 14 March 2018 – she missed out on the small crystal globe by three points to Italy’s Sofia Goggia, who had won Olympic gold in the event at PyeongChang 2018 a month earlier.
Vonn won downhill bronze in the Republic of Korea, her third Olympic medal. At the age of 34, she is now gunning for another record once deemed to be unbeatable: Ingemar Stenmark’s 86 World Cup wins. Just four short of that milestone, the voracious Vonn has no intention of calling time on her incredible career just yet.
Bowing out at the top
Vonn set her sights on Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup victories, and fell just four short of that mark. The fates decreed that it was not to be when, in November 2018, she suffered the latest in a series of knee injuries. She returned to competition in January for the World Cup event at Cortina d'Ampezzo, where she admitted the physical pain was too much to bear. It was then that she announced her intention to retire in February after the World Championships in Åre.
Having crashed out of the super-G, she then claimed her eighth medal at the Worlds, a bronze in the downhill, handing her the proud achievement of becoming the first woman to medal at six different editions of the World Championships. She also claimed a record 20 crystal globes and 43 downhill victories. However, her crowning achievement, by her own admission, remained the downhill gold she won at the Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010.
Having established herself as a true sporting icon, Vonn has no intention of disengaging from the Olympic Movement. Having already served as an Ambassador for the inaugural Youth Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck in 2012, in December 2017 she became the first international athlete to commit to a similar role for the upcoming Winter YOG in Lausanne in 2020, where she will continue to share her experience and inspire the latest generation of winter athletes.