Lindsey Vonn has successful World Cup TV color debut
Lindsey brings her A-game
As Italy’s Sofia Goggia came to the finish area during Saturday’s women’s World Cup downhill in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, the color commentator on the Olympic Channel said, “This time is going to be very difficult to beat. She’s going to get another win. I would place a lot of money on that.”
Though Goggia was only the ninth racer of the day, Lindsey Vonn was right on the mark as the Italian won and two of her fellow teammates finished in the top four, with Switzerland’s Lara Gut-Behrami in second.
With Dan Hicks on the play-by-play, Vonn had a successful color-commentary debut with quick insights to the race as they were happening. Though Hicks set her up nicely, Vonn was prepared with research and her encyclopedic Alpine knowledge from her career.
Vonn overcame a common difficulty for a lot of athletes transitioning to the broadcast booth — being able to criticize her contemporaries and former teammates. And she was able to avoid any controversy when talking about Mikaela Shiffrin, who is not racing this weekend in Switzerland ahead of her giant slalom in Kronplatz, Italy, on Tuesday.
Ironically, it was skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka, the 2018 super-G Olympic champion, who really gave Vonn her first chance to shine. Hicks set Vonn up nicely with a question of how Ledecka could balance both sports, and Lindsey said it wasn’t as big of an adjustment as one thinks because the Czech racer has “a certain touch for the snow.”
Just as she was making that comment, Ledecka missed a critical left turn and flew into the netting to the right.
“Ohhh, wow, that was unfortunate because that was an unnecessary error,” Vonn said without hesitation. “She just let her ski get a little wide (on a turn) there. She thought she could pull it off.”
Of course, Vonn knows a wee bit about crashing. Yes, she has 82 career World Cup wins, but those came with some tumbles. That experience was critical on Ledecka’s crash, when Vonn said with relief, “Her skis came off fast.”
Indeed as the replay proceeded and was replayed, Ledecka’s skis indeed popped off quickly as they are intended and she was able to make her way down the hill under her own power.
That turn soon became a focal point of the race and Vonn was right on it. Two racers after Ledecka wiped out, Goggia was entering that section of the course.
“Let’s make sure she doesn’t make the same mistake that Ledecka does — be strong on that outside ski on this blind roll,” Vonn said.
Goggia slid a little on the turn, Vonn said, but made it through successfully.
The elephant in the room
Vonn pegged the outcome of the race as it was happening and had some other nice insights in her broadcast debut.
- On American Breezy Johnson, who finished fifth on Saturday after four straight third-place results in downhill this season: “… She just makes small mistakes here and there.” Vonn added that Johnson is not far from winning and that she probably should have won in Val d’Isere, France, and St. Anton, Austria.
- Vonn is still connected with most of the women’s racers and apparently receives voicemails from Goggia on a regular basis, including one from after Saturday’s race. While Vonn couldn’t play the voicemail on air because of technology issues, she was able sum up Goggia’s thoughts on her day, which was a nice touch.
- On Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, who was seventh: “All she really needs to do is have solid results like this . … This is exactly what she has to do to win the overall this year. She’s got to get these points when Mikaela’s not racing.“
- Speaking of which, Shiffrin of course came up during the 90-minute broadcast. When asked about Mikaela’s tech-only approach to the 2020-21 season, Vonn was diplomatic: “She definitely hasn’t had the amount of training she normally does,” Vonn said. “She hasn’t been quite as dominant in slalom and GS as she normally is. If I was as talented as she was, I would always be doing five events, but that’s the different mentality that she has. She has been exceptionally successful the way she’s approached it. If she thinks that’s what she needs to succeed in the World Championships, then she should, by all means, do it.”
A final question
Vonn will be also announcing Sunday’s super-G. (The Olympic Channel is showing the super-G starting at 3:58 a.m. Mountain Time, so set your DVRs or program the coffee machine accordingly. NBC Sports Network is airing a replay at 4:30 p.m. Sunday as well.)
But is color commentary something Vonn wants to do during her post-racing career? Is this a test drive for the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Cortina, Italy, next month?
The answers are maybe and maybe. Since retiring after the 2019 worlds downhill, Vonn’s understandably in a time of transition. For 34 of her 36 years on the planet, Vonn has pretty much been fixated on skiing, so life after skiing is understandably different.
This is an option, but certainly not her only one.
Most importantly, how does Vonn handle a race in which Shiffrin competes?
Publicly, the two greatest ski racers in American history are cordial, but there has been some tension between the two camps, most notably during the 2019 worlds in Are, Sweden.
We don’t know the answer to that question unless this weekend was, in fact, a tryout for worlds.