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The USA’s first women’s downhill champion at Vancouver 2010, a four-time overall FIS World Cup winner and a downhill and super-G world champion in 2009, Vonn’s career took a dramatic turn at the 2013 FIS World Championships in Schladming (AUT) where she crashed in the super-G, suffering serious ligament damage to her right knee. With a year to go before Sochi 2014, she faced a race against time to defend her downhill crown.
Although she returned to World Cup action in November 2013, her knee disastrously gave way in Val d’Isère (FRA) the following month, and another operation was her only option. “Watching Sochi on TV was not what I wanted to be doing,” the American skier recalled. “I’d worked so hard from the previous injury to be able to come back and to then blow my knee out again just a few months before the Olympics was really heart-breaking.”
Vonn returned in style in the 2014/15 season. First in four downhill races and as many super-Gs, she moved past Austrian Anne-Marie Moser-Pröll’s record of 62 World Cup wins with a super-G victory at Cortina d'Ampezzo (ITA).
She went on to collect the downhill and super-G titles for the season, taking her record-breaking collection of crystal globes to 19. The following season saw her reach even greater heights with nine World Cup wins in four years, among them a first giant slalom victory at Are (SWE).
Vonn also eclipsed another Moser-Pröll record in landing her 38th win in the downhill as she collected her 20th crystal globe. With the season nearing its end, she stood top of the overall World Cup standings. However, in late February there was another setback. Falling in a super-G race at Soldeu (AND), the American suffered a triple fracture in her left knee, bringing her season to a premature end.
“I’m very proud of what I have been able to accomplish this year.” she said in a statement. “While I’m confident I’m making the right decision, it still doesn’t make this decision any easier. Further damage [...] could result in serious surgery that would risk my future.”
After regaining full fitness, Vonn picked up yet another injury in pre-season training at Copper Mountain (USA) in November 2016, breaking her right arm after a heavy fall. “Very painful, but luckily it wasn’t my knees again,” she said at the time.
Returning to action just two months later, she won the downhill in Garmisch (GER) to take her tally of World Cup victories to 77 and edge ever closer to the all-time record of 86, held by Swedish slalom great Ingemar Stenmark. She has already intimated that she plans to compete for at least one more season after PyeongChang 2018, giving her a chance of surpassing the Swede’s benchmark.
“I’m a risk-taker,” admits Vonn, who tends to compensate for her mistakes through sheer speed. “I love pushing myself and seeing how fast I can go and that is what allows me to win so many races. It also makes me prone to injury.”
The American won downhill bronze at the 2017 World Championships in St Moritz (SUI), her seventh medal at the worlds. Meanwhile, in Jeongseon (KOR), on the course that will be used at PyeongChang 2018, she finished runner-up to Italy’s Sofia Goggia in both the downhill and the super-G.
“I love a challenge,” she said of the Olympic course. “The bigger a challenge it is, the better the chances I have of doing well. I would love to get another gold medal, especially in downhill. I’ll just go there and do my best, like I always do. For me, it’s not just a question of, ‘Will I be ready?’ It’s just, ‘Will I be healthy?’ That’s my main goal.”
In a bid to reach peak fitness in time for PyeongChang, Vonn’s intensive training schedule saw her head for the Chilean resort of La Parva in September 2017. She will arrive in the Republic of Korea a full 16 years after making her Olympic debut at Salt Lake City 2002, when she was just 17. With just two podium finishes to her name so far, she is clearly keen to add to her tally: “I hope there’ll be plenty of news reports about my medals,” she says.