Vail’s Lindsey Vonn says 2018-19 season will be her last
The Vonn File
Career World Cup wins: 82.
First World Cup win: Lake Louise, Alberta, downhill, Dec. 3, 2004.
World Cup championships: Four, 2008-2010, 2012.
Most wins in a season: 12, 2011-12 season.
FIS Alpine World Ski Championships: Seven medals, including gold in downhill and super-G in 2009 in Val d’Isere, France.
Olympics: Thre medals, including downhill gold in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2010.
We all probably knew this was going to happen, but it’s still somewhat shocking.
Vail’s Lindsey Vonn told Ski Racing Magazine this week that the 2018-19 World Cup season will be her last.
“Well, this is going to be my last season,” Vonn told Ski Racing. “Definitely retiring after this year and there’s one record I still would love to break, and that Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup wins.”
Vonn enters her final World Cup season with 82 victories, and her pursuit of the Swede will be one of the major plotlines of the winter.
Before we get to the path to 87, it must be said. She is, by far, the best skier in American skiing history, and one of the best ever — regardless of nationality or gender— to click into a pair of skis.
Fun with numbers
• Bode Miller and Ted Ligety are probably the best men’s skiers to wear red, white and blue. They combined for 58 career wins, while Vonn is at 82 and counting. Let’s cut the U.S. Men’s Ski Team a break and let them add Phil (27 wins) and Steve Mahre (9). Only then do the quartet outdo Lindsey, 84-82. Throw in “Big D” — aka Daron Rahlves (12 wins) and then the five greatest American male skiers are safely out of Vonn’s range with 97 wins.
• You’ve heard of “Game of Thrones?” How about Game of Globes? Vonn has 20 (four overall titles, nine downhill championships, five in super-G and three combineds). Miller, the Mahre brothers, Ligety and Rahlves combined for 20. (It’s worth noting as notable of Rahlves’ career was, he never won any crystal.)
• Let’s put together a who’s-who list of American women skiers — Mikaela Shiffrin (43 wins), Picabo Street (9), Kristina Koznick (6), Julia Mancuso (7) and Tamara McKinney (18). The five edge Vonn, 83-82.
• As dominating as Austria’s Marcel Hirscher has been during his unprecedented run of seven World Cup championships, he’s still 28 wins behind Vonn (82-56). Another Austrian legend Hermann Maier finished with 54 World Cup triumphs. Tomba la Bomba? Alberto Tomba won 50 times.
• On the women’s side, she’s lapped the field, 20 wins, or nearly 33 percent, ahead of Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proll. It’s also useful to look it the win totals of her contemporaries. Vonn started on the circuit in 2001. Sweden’s Anja Parson (1998-2012) topped the field 42 times. Austria’s Marlies Schild (2001-2014) has 37 wins. Both were primarily tech racers.
Slovenia’s Tina Maze (1999-2015) and Germany’s Maria Hofl-Riesch (2001-2014) were often Vonn’s toughest competition for her four overall globes. They combined for 53 career wins.
• Vonn has 43 career downhill wins. If you only count those, she would still be tied for fifth on the all-time women’s win list with Shiffrin.
That last nugget brings us to the inevitable comparison of America’s two ski goddesses, and we continue to insist that it’s an odious one. They come from different backgrounds within the sport — Vonn is a speedster, while Shiffrin comes from tech.
Their personalities are also vastly opposite. While I have no doubt that Shiffrin’s competitive desire burns brightly, it does not do so outwardly like Vonn’s does. Can you imagine Vonn taking a nap between runs of a FIS Alpine World Ski Championships race as Shiffrin did here in 2015 in the slalom? Nope.
That works for Shiffrin and that’s great. While it’s not a judgment of what is better, Vonn just has a different form of aggression than Shiffrin. Vonn has been out there, wanting to race the men, not just for this year’s edition of World Cup races in Lake Louise, Alberta, but back in 2011, when she was training with Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal.
That same year, when Europe had no snow and FIS moved a super-G to Beaver Creek, Vonn was pissed off that the women’s Birds of Prey women’s course would not include Golden Eagle. She wanted to show she could take that jump just like the guys.
This raging fire has served her well and poorly. From 2008-2013, it enabled her to destroy the world. For those four-and-a-half seasons, she racked up 46 World Cup wins, Worlds gold in 2009 and Olympic gold in 2010. Everybody else was racing for second.
And then came the super-G to start 2013 Worlds in Schladming, Austria, where her career really could have come to an end. Vonn blew up everything in her right knee.
Her futile attempt to return for the Sochi, Russia, Olympics in 2014 was simultaneously noble and cringe-worthy. What are you doing, Lindsey? Her answer was that she was willing to ski on one leg, if necessary, to go to the Olympics. As fun trivia note, she finished 11th and fifth at World Cup events in Lake Louise on one leg in December 2013.
The road to 87
As it turned out, it took Vonn about 21 months to recover. She’s won 23 more times after her knee went to smithereens. Again, Ligety has 25 career World Cup wins, so she’s had a Hall of Fame career just in the years after her devastating injury.
Vonn has battled non-right-knee injuries the last two years because, well, if you aren’t hurt, you really aren’t trying, and she’s entering her 18th year — more than half of her life — on tour.
Breaking Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup wins will be much easier for Vonn if she can get through the preseason in relatively healthy fashion. Her season starts at Lake Louise, a course she’s won at 17 times. Last year, she was clearly not healthy with two DNFs and 12th-place finish. (Remember she did better on one leg there in 2013).
If she’s healthy, she can start the season with a win or two there and that will go a long ways for her to getting the five victories she needs. Just in case you’re wondering, she’s swept all three Lake Louise races thrice (2011, 2012 and 2015).
And while there’s much pomp and circumstance about 87 wins, this is also a Worlds year with Are, Sweden, hosting in February. It’s been 10 years since Vonn won gold at Worlds and she has six career wins in Are, including the World Cup Finals downhill in March. Just saying.
However 2018-19 goes, Vonn deserves to take a global bow. We’re looking forward to final chapter of her brilliant skiing career.