Lindsey Vonn reflects on World Championships experiences
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in 2015 magazine. Vail/Beaver Creek is hosting the Alpine World Ski Championships Feb. 2-15.
Lindsey Vonn has been a part of World Championships dating back to the last time Vail and Beaver Creek hosted the event, in 1999, when she was a course slipper. Her first Worlds as a competitor were in 2005, and she has competed at each event through 2013, when she suffered a devastating knee injury in Schladming, Austria. Here are her recollections of her World Championships experiences, and her expectations for 2015, when the Worlds return to her hometown.
Vail/Beaver Creek, USA
Lindsey Vonn is a 14-year-old ski racer out of Burnsville, Minnesota, who’s showing such promise her family has recently relocated her to Vail, and enrolled her in Ski Club Vail. “I remember how excited I was, how excited the entire community was, and how excited Ski Club Vail was years before we even had the World Championships. We debated who was going to be on the race crew and how were we going to be able to sneak into the finish and get autographs from everyone. It was really cool, and you could see the intensity and enthusiasm that everyone had to be able to host the World Championships.” Through Ski Club Vail, Vonn is given the honor of being a course slipper during the 1999 World Championships. “I remember watching Marco Buechel get a silver medal in the GS. I was slipping right behind him, and I remember watching his style and thinking how amazing it was. It was a beautiful, typical sunny Vail day, the crowds were going crazy and I just thought how amazing it would be to be able to have this experience.”
Lindsey Vonn’s first World Championships as a professional ski racer. She does not make the podium in any events. “In Bormio I was fourth three times, but every time I learned something.”
Following a disappointing performance at the 2006 Olympics, Vonn is hungry for glory and ends up earning her first-ever big-event medals, in the downhill and super-G, both silver. “My downhill performance is a really great memory because I had a huge mistake on the top. I was out by a second and a half or something like that, and I just kept fighting and fighting, and I kept making up the time slowly, slowly, slowly, and when I got to the finish I was second place.”
Val d’Isere, France
The biggest event of Vonn’s career up to this point. She earns two gold medals, in downhill and super-G. “A lot of people were saying, ‘She can’t win at the big events,’ and I knew that wasn’t true at all. In the super-G, I started, I believe it was 21, and it was a completely sunny day, and then after about seven girls, it was a complete whiteout and no one was coming even close to the girls who had started earlier. … No one thought it was possible to come down and not only be on the podium but be in the lead. So to overcome those conditions and make it down the run that I did with all the pressure I had was definitely an extremely rewarding experience. Being able to execute in Val d’Isere on race day gave me so much confidence going into Vancouver and executing there.”
Vonn has now won on every level, taking gold and bronze at the Vancouver Olympics and crediting her confidence from the 2009 World Championship win as a contributing factor in the performance. But she’s not feeling well. “I was suffering from a concussion going in, but progressively got better throughout the World Championships and ended up getting a bronze in the downhill. So that was great, despite having that injury and struggling so badly, I was still able to get a good performance out of it.”
Tragedy strikes. Vonn is injured in the very first race of the 2013 World Championships. Like 2009, the conditions in the super-G were tough. “They should stop the race. It’s not safe to run,” Vonn tells her coach. She races anyway, and ends up making a mistake with her leg and falling head first over the top of her skis at full speed, tearing her ACL and MCL and fracturing her tibial plateau. Her teammate Julia Mancuso finished in third for the bronze.
Vail/Beaver Creek, USA
Vonn is excited. With Vail now being her primary residence, they’re her World Championships. “Now, I finally will be able to have my hometown World Championships, and get to race at a pretty unique and special event.” Now that the World Championships have come full circle for Vonn with the event’s return to the Vail Valley, the champion ski racer is reminded of how meaningful those experiences in Vail were to her as a youngster.