There are not many athletes in the sometimes-closeted world of alpine skiing that have become household names on a global level, but the US’ Lindsey Vonn is certainly one of them.
Prodigious talent and ability on the slope to one side, Vonn has allied her bubbly personality, good looks and — more recently — her liaison with top golfer Tiger Woods with business acumen to capitalize on her “branding”.
A savage fall at the World Championships in Schladming, Austria, in February saw her suffer terrible knee injuries that required reconstructive surgery followed by months of rehabilitation.
Yet the 29-year-old has bounced back, taking to competition in three races at Canada’s Lake Louise in the first week of this month, not long after retweaking her rebuilt knee.
Vonn is selective in what she chooses to race, skipping St Mortiz and Courchevel, but appearing in Val d’Isere, France, a resort where she has enjoyed much success, with one eye on the bigger objective.
“My goal is the Olympic Games, they’re in February and that’s more than enough time,” Vonn told Red Bulletin magazine in an interview. “To win gold after this injury, personally that would be my greatest success. The accident was the lowest point in my career. Gold in Sochi would be my highest.”
Vonn said she was confident of surpassing Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell’s record of 62 women’s World Cup victories — the American has 59 — and even Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark’s mark of 86 in the men’s competition.
“I’ve already been thinking about that. My current plan is to keep going until the 2015 World Cup. Then I’ll see how far away I am from that number and then I’ll decide what to do, whether I’ll keep going in every discipline or maybe just downhill and super-G and concentrate on that record,” she said.
“Records are the only thing which remains of an athlete. The only thing that people will remember. If I want to ensure that people don’t forget me, I can only stop once I’ve set the bar as high as possible for anyone coming after me,” Vonn said.
She has found herself propelled into the tabloid spotlight after she started dating Woods, one of the most successful golfers of all time with 14 major victories.
However, she insists she would not have it any other way, crediting Woods with making her a “better athlete” for showing her unprecedented levels of professionalism, dedication to fitness and a mental toughness to resist pressure.
“He pushes himself a lot further than he perhaps needs to and to see that pushes me in turn,” she said. “There were moments at golf tournaments where I said to myself: ‘OK, Lindsey, this is the next level of self-confidence, concentration, control. When you make it to this level, it will make you a better skier.’”
Vonn said she has overcome the “insanely stressful” habit of using popularity as a crutch to get over her insecurity at times when she was depressed and before divorcing former husband Thomas Vonn.
“I was almost addicted to people liking me, but the more I feel confident in myself, the less it matters to me what other people think about me,” she said.
The American admitted to being a “brand” whose bottom line could only increase by high-profile media outings.
On tabloids’ interest in her after gaining celebrity status as Woods’ girlfriend, the skiier said: “It’s fun, honestly, because it’s so absurd, much more so than I had imagined.”
“One magazine wrote that I was moving to Pakistan because I didn’t want to have kids with Tiger. How do they come up with this stuff? Tiger and I had a lot of fun with that at breakfast: ‘Bye, honey, sorry, I’m leaving you. Pakistan awaits,’ and he’s like: ‘Good luck, say hi to the Pakistani ski team for me,’” Vonn added.