Ski racer and two-time World Champion Lindsey Vonn has been in the spotlight ever since she took a bad crash while downhill training at the 2006 Winter Olympics. When she cut her hand on a bottle of champagne after winning World Champs, the press covered it. There’s no wonder why. This is the racer who elected to take a cow instead of prize money after winning at Val d’Isère in 2005. And now, she’s been named Female Athlete of the Decade by NBC’s Universal Sports (joining Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, for the 10-year honor). We’ve been pestering Vonn for months now for an interview. Finally, we got our chance to speak to her about Conan O’Brian’s hair, the dumbest thing she’s said in an interview, and why everyone always asks about her cows.
Skiers aren’t normally used to the kind of media attention you’re getting. Do you have someone who helps coach you on what to say in interviews?
I have a pretty good support team with my husband, my agent, the U.S. Ski Team, and all of my personal sponsors, but figuring out the right thing to say has never been that hard. It’s pretty important that I’m always me, but I do take time before interviews to think about what I want to say.
Do you feel like you’re used to the spotlight now? Or is it still surprising when you see your face on a national television ad?
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that, especially when people come up to me and tell me about a commercial they saw or a picture in a magazine. I spend so much time in Europe that I don’t actually get to see a lot of the things that come out in the U.S., so it’s always cool to get emails and Facebook fans telling me about where they saw me.
What’s the dumbest thing you’ve said in an interview?
I don’t know if I could pick a certain instance. Mostly these happen when I’m doing interviews in German and I think that what I’m saying is right, but then when I see it in print later, I’m like, oh my god, that’s not what I meant to say.
How was it being on the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brian?
He is hilarious all the time. When I first met him, I just raised my hand and said I have to touch it (his hair) and he just bowed and said, ‘You may.’ And he had to bow a long way. I’m not a short person, but Conan is really tall and his hair makes him like a foot taller. I was pretty nervous to do the show. All I could think about was ‘don’t trip on the stairs.’ I don’t wear heels all that often.
A reporter from the L.A. Times recently described you as “a statuesque brunet behind sunglasses.” I’d say you’re a blond, no? You must have to deal with a ton of mistakes in print?
There are always going to be small mistakes, but it’s cool. I mean, I’m a ski racer and the L.A. Times is sending reporters to Colorado to cover me and my sport. That’s pretty cool.
Is there a question that you wish reporters would ask you during interviews but they never do?
They never ask me what I like to cook. I’m a pretty good cook even though I don’t get all that much time to practice.
What’s the one question all reporters ask that you’re bored of answering?
I get asked about my cows all the time, but I guess my cows keep having more cows, so the story keeps going.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how was this interview? More interesting than normal? About average?
I’ll give it a 10, but you have to make me a deal. Skiing needs more coverage of the U.S. Ski Team and ski racing! What can I say, the kids like to go fast.