Lindsey Vonn once celebrated a downhill win by attempting to spray a bottle of bubbly that turned out to be broken. Things went downhill fast with Vonn slicing her thumb on the jagged glass.
From elation to ouch in an instant. But that moment at the 2009 world championships in France — she needed tendon surgery — illustrates the bliss and bad breaks along Vonn’s road to becoming the winningest female ski racer.
She’s had plenty of iconic images in a career that will culminate with a downhill Sunday at the world championships in Sweden. Plenty of painful ones, too. On her journey, the racer from Colorado/Minnesota won three Olympic medals, four overall World Cup titles and a women’s record 82 World Cup races.
Oh, and some farm animals — a cow named Olympe, for winning an event in 2005, and a goat named Laura — after her sister — as a race reward at the ’09 worlds.
“Without exception, she did extraordinary things,” said Tiger Shaw, the CEO of U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “She’s accomplished so many things and has overcome so much adversity in her life, with her injuries, and comebacks, and setbacks and comebacks. We’re all in awe of what she’s accomplished in her career.”
Now on to Act II of her life: Maybe a film career . Possibly becoming an entrepreneur. Maybe starting a family. Perhaps all three.
A look at some of Vonn’s feats, bumps, accomplishments and experiences over a career filled with comeback after comeback:
THE HIGHLIGHTS: Hard to pick just a few. There was her first World Cup win on Dec. 3, 2004, in a place she always felt at home — Lake Louise, a course now named after her. There’s also the Olympic gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games on a badly bruised shin; breaking Annemarie Moser-Proell’s women’s World Cup record for wins on Jan. 19, 2015, in Italy; and an Olympic bronze medal at the Pyeongchang Games last February after all her bumps in the road.
CALL IT A COMEBACK: One of the reasons she’s walking away now is so she can ski recreationally. Her knees are “broken beyond repair ,” she acknowledged, after numerous surgeries. She’s also broken her left ankle (August 2015), suffered fractures in her left knee (February 2016), hyper-extended her right knee (February 2007) and been taken off the mountain by a helicopter twice (once after a training crash before the 2006 Turin Games where she returned two days later to race with a bruised hip and again at the 2013 world championships in Austria where she tore knee ligaments). One of the scarier episodes was a broken right arm in November 2016 after a training wipeout. Right after surgery, she had nerve damage and couldn’t move her fingers. She later taped a ski pole to her glove in her return to racing. Soon, she will have knee surgery for the seventh time — to repair the left knee ligament she tore during training in November. “The image of Lindsey will always be just toughness,” U.S. ski team doctor William Sterett said.
CLOSE CALL: Vonn was going for a fourth straight World Cup overall title during the 2010-11 season, when the final race of the year was called off because of the weather. She lost by three points to Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany. “Win or lose, I just wanted the chance. I feel devastated,” Vonn said at the time. Vonn won the overall the next season by more than 500 points.
HELPING OUT: Vonn has her own foundation, which is dedicated to helping girls achieve their ambitions . She also opened up in a 2012 interview with People magazine about dealing with depression. In addition, she wrote a book titled, “Strong is the New Beautiful,” which features lessons in fitness, food and attitude.
BIG INFLUENCE: Grandfather Don Kildow was a ski racer and launched her love of the sport. He died in November 2017. She scattered some of her grandfather’s ashes on a rock near the mountain where the downhill race in South Korea was held. Don Kildow served in the Army Corps of Engineers during the Korean War in the 1950s. “You taught me to be tough, to be kind, and above all, to ski fast,” she wrote on Instagram after his death. “Now, every time I ski down the mountain I know you’ll be there with me.”
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