Her first Olympics was Salt Lake City in 2002 when she was just 17 years old. She missed racing at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 due to a career-threatening injury. She trained arduously these past four years to be in peak shape for the 2018 Olympics. At her fifth and final Olympics at age 33, she managed to snag just a bronze medal in the downhill in Pyeongchang when the whole world expected her to ski away with gold. Her performance left viewers wondering, “What went wrong?” when they should instead be marveling at the greatest skier of all time: Minnesota native Lindsey Vonn.
Though both Italian Sofia Goggia and Norwegian Ragnhild Mowinckel finished ahead of Vonn in her best event, the women’s downhill, Vonn has already secured her title as the best skier of all time for so many reasons that people who watch her exclusively in the Olympics fail to see.
From a numbers standpoint, Lindsey Vonn is absolutely the best skier of all time. For 16 winters, Vonn has been on the FIS World Cup circuit as a member of the U.S. Ski Team. In those 16 seasons, Vonn has won four World Cup overall championships and earned a record eight World Cup season titles in the downhill event, five in the super-G and three in the combined. In 2016 she won her twentieth World Cup trophy—the prized crystal globe—an all-time record among both men and women. As of now, she has 81 World Cup wins and 135 World Cup podiums. She earned the gold medal in downhill and the bronze in the super-G in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. She has won seven World Championship medals: two gold, three silver and two bronze. She also has the highest super ranking (a scoring system calculated from using points in three races: Olympics, World Championships and World Cups) of all time out of both men and women. Taking all of this into account from a statistical standpoint, Vonn is the most successful skier of all time.
However, Vonn is not just impressive in her rankings: her skiing has revolutionized and progressed the sport of skiing. She is one of only six women to have won World Cup races in all five events—downhill, giant slalom, slalom, super-G and super combined (one run of either downhill or super-G and one run of slalom)—in alpine skiing. Most competitive skiers are not contenders for all around skiers and they will just specialize in a few events. However, Vonn is not only good in the speed events like downhill and super-G, she also excels in the technical events like slalom, GS and combined. This requires an unprecedented amount of talent and skill to maintain the stamina and agility required for technical events as well as the dexterity, aerodynamics and aggression needed in the speed events. She is one of the few skiers ever to be this dominant in a sport, especially for so long. After a brutal crash in the 2013 World Championships in Schladming and another crash in training back in the states, Vonn’s chances at making her fourth Olympic Games were quickly narrowing. At that point in her career, many expected her to hang up her ski boots. But at just her second race back in December of 2014, Vonn managed to win the World Cup at Lake Louise and then proceeded to overtake Austrian record holder Annemarie Moser-Proell for the most World Cup wins ever in women’s skiing. In November of 2016, Vonn severely fractured her humerus in a training accident at Copper Mountain in Colorado. She returned to the World Cup scene in January of 2017 after surgery, where she went on to win the downhill race in Garmisch- her second race back following the injury. Vonn has proven herself not only in her peak form, but in coming back from injury as well. Few skiers have the mental fortitude to come back from those kinds of career-threatening injuries, and even fewer have the capability to come back and then start breaking records again like nothing happened. Before the Olympics in Pyeongchang, Vonn’s grandfather passed away. He was the one who taught her how to ski on the bunny hills in Minnesota and took her on road trips down to Vail, Colorado. Though absolutely crestfallen by his passing, Vonn managed to summon the spirit to continue her racing and to succeed in honor of her grandfather. The perseverance and unabridged moxie Vonn has brought to this sport has inspired her fellow racers on the U.S. Ski Team, as well as skiers from around the world.
Anyone can tell you what Vonn has done for the sport of skiing with all the records broken and titles won. But, on a personal level, Vonn has inspired me as a skier and a former racer myself like no other role model of mine ever has. Watching Vonn bring her pure passion and unadulterated joy to a sport that is so close to my heart is and has been inspirational. Growing up in an avid skiing family, I was lucky enough to watch her race throughout her career and truly revolutionize the sport of skiing every step of the way. For everyone who expected her to sweep the gold medals at this Olympics: do a little bit of research. The truth is, Vonn came into Pyeongchang as the best skier of all time, with absolutely nothing more to prove for herself. For nearly two decades, Vonn has slowly but undeniably solidified her standing as the best skier of all time, as seen in her prowess, determination and insight. Though she did not win gold at these Olympics, Vonn has beyond satisfied the entire world with her accomplishments in the sport of skiing and I and many others will readily and happily refer to her as the greatest skier of all time. The truth is, no one will ever be able to catch Lindsey Vonn.