Lindsey Vonn...Greatest Ski Racer Ever?

We defend the outrageous—and possibly true— claim that Lindsey Vonn might be the greatest ski racer of all time.
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We defend the outrageous—and possibly true— claim that Lindsey Vonn might be the greatest ski racer of all time.
Lindsey Vonn "Tebowing" at Birds of Prey

Lindsey Vonn is a good ski racer. But how about this: “Lindsey Vonn is the greatest racer ever.”

It’s an outrageous statement, and one we haven’t seen in any other publication, American or European, dare to make. But give it some thought, do the math, and it begins to look increasingly sane.

Consider, for a moment, the “unbeatable records” of sports:

- 73 (home runs in an MLB season): Barry Bonds couldn’t have done it without PEDs, now banned.
- 100 (points in an NBA game): The game has changed, and there’ll never be another Wilt Chamberlain. (Kobe Bryant put up 81 once. Michael Jordan’s best: 69.)
- 11 (NBA championships won by a single player): In his 13 seasons, the great Bill Russell collected 11 rings with the Boston Celtics.
- 511 (career MLB wins): You’d have to win 26 per season for 20 years to catch Cy Young.

Then there’s this one:
- 86 (career World Cup ski racing wins): If you raced during the reign of Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark, you were competing for second place in almost every race.

No one has come close, but who has come closest to Stenmark?

- Annemarie Moser-Pröll, Austria, 62 wins
- Vreni Schneider, Switzerland, 55
- Hermann Maier, Austria, 54
- Alberto Tomba, Italy, 50
- Marc Girardelli, Luxembourg, 46
- Renate Götschl, Austria, 46
- Lindsey Vonn, USA, 46

So is Vonn, at age 28 and evidently skiing better than ever, on track to catch Stenmark?

In fact, the numbers suggest it’s possible. By age 28, Stenmark already had 74 of his wins. But he only won 12 more over the last five years of his career. Vonn, by comparison, only seems to be getting better: 11 wins in 2010, 8 wins in 2010, five wins already this year.

So she needs 40 more. It’s a tall order, for sure, but consider this: Vonn shows a remarkable ability to avoid serious injury. Her strength and conditioning regimen is notoriously fanatical. And she’s winning at a pace unmatched in her career. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that she can’t average, say, eight wins over the next five seasons, passing Stenmark at age 33.

That, in our book, would give her pretty credible claim to the title of “best racer ever.” And we’re not alone in thinking it’s possible.

“I think she has a shot at the record,” says Rainer Salzgeber, the former Austrian GS ace, now head of racing for Vonn’s equipment sponsor, Head.

Vonn’s quest continues this weekend with three downhills and a Super G at Cortina, Italy. Should she win all four, she’d catch Tomba. And as it happens, she’d do it on his home hill.