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Lindsey Vonn: Victory in a Champion's Words

A year ago, we talked to Lindsey about her racing career. As the 2010 Winter Games loom large, her interview is as relevant as ever

From last season to 2009, what’s special?
I’m just really happy to be able to win the overall again. It’s been such a tough season. I wasn’t able to win as many downhills as last year but it’s been tough with the weather for us speed racers. So the fact I was able to win the overall despite those tough conditions means a lot to me. I made a lot of changes in my slalom from 34th in world to second and that helped a lot in winning the overall title. And having the recent success in super G has been good.

I feel like all of my hard work is paying off. I’m already focusing on next season and what my goals will be. Right now, though, I’m happy to have the downhill and overall wrapped up.

Talk more about your slalom, which was one of your goals this year, and super G.
This summer, working heavily on slalom and super G, I’ve made huge steps. I’ve worked a lot on my equipment to come up with some better skis for me. In super G I feel like I found a rhythm and have stuck with it. I feel I have a good game plan, my husband and I work together, and I’m confident in every race. When I started off winning the first slalom and downhill it helped to carry my confidence through the season. I’m happy I was able to make those steps. But I’m looking forward to next year and especially the GS, which I haven’t conquered yet. And it’s a big goal of mine this summer.

Has the severed tendon bothered you?
My thumb always seems to be getting in the way so I can’t forget about it. When I’m skiing I have my hand duct taped to my pole so I only have one hand to work with. I’m always asking people to help with buckling a boot or putting on a jacket.

As far as my skiing, it hasn’t hindered me too much. It has hurt my balance. I crashed in training in Bansko and it played a role in that. But I’m working through it and the pain and the season is almost over. I’m also happy that despite the injury I was able to finish the season. For a while it was looking dark and gloomy. The fact that I was able to come back and finish the season strong has made me happy.

It looked like you caught some air in the middle of the course?
It was interesting; in the training run I got pretty much no air. Today it was seven seconds faster than the training run so I carried a lot more speed into that jump than in training. I knew it was a tricky jump because the hill fell away. It did catch me by surprise. After that, I did well on the remaining jumps.

Do you start looking at records?
The records are really humbling. I feel like this season has been amazing and the wins and podiums are starting to accumulate. To think of [Annemarie] Moeser-Proell and [Renate] Goetschl, what they’ve done is really amazing. It makes me set my goals higher and try to get to those numbers, which will be really hard. But if I keep going and ski hard it’s possible. But it’s something you can’t really focus on. You have to take it a day at a time. Hopefully at the end of my career I’ll be close to those numbers.

Do you get rock star treatment like Bode in Europe?
It’s been incredible. Last year I thought there were a lot of people who knew me but this year has been ten times as much, especially in Bansko. I needed four security guards and my two Red Bull guys to get out of the finish. I threw my flowers to the crowd and it was an all out brawl to see who would get the flowers. Sometimes it’s more than I can handle. But I try to spend as much time as I can to sign autographs. But there’s so many people that it’s hard to manage it all to give everyone what they want.

Besides Maria Riesch, whom do you watch out for?
Right now I feel like Maria’s the strongest competitor for the overall. But that’s not to say that Anja Paerson, who’s skiing very well, and young girls like Lara Gut, for example, who is more of a super G threat, are skiers to watch. But Maria and Anja are good in all five disciplines. Right now those are the girls I see in my rear view mirror.

Are you skiing on men’s skis?
In slalom and GS I’m skiing on men’s skis, it’s not a softer version it’s exactly what the men are skiing on. In slalom it’s 10 cm longer than what the women are skiing on. In GS it’s 3 cm longer. It’s been tough to adjust to the injection they’ve been doing on courses the last few years. On these courses the skis give me the support I need and the turning. That’s the experience I gained from training with the men’s team this summer and that’s been a big part of my success this year.

Let’s look ahead to the 2010 Olympics, when American fans will pay attention. Have you thought about how important the Winter Games are to you, and are you prepared for that pressure?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Olympics. I feel like I am a lot more prepared than in the past. It’s been a challenge, at times, to be able to manage all the press and media over the last two years, especially after winning the overall. That’s made me better able to handle those situations. So I definitely know there will be a lot of pressure in these next Olympics but I feel I’m ready to handle it—or, I hope I’m ready. The Olympics mean everything to me. The overall titles have been incredible and you work hard for, but the Olympics are very special. The Americans only watch those two weeks and probably don’t see your sport until the next Olympics. This is my opportunity to show America how cool skiing is. It’s a great extreme sport and I hope these Olympics give me the opportunity to show them who I am and the sport I love.

Will they remember your crash in Torino? Does that give you motivation?
I think what I’m carrying over most from the last Olympics is the disappointment from the crash and the fact I was able to come back and still compete. The disappointment made me realize how important skiing is to me and how much I love the sport. All I wanted to do when I was in the hospital was to get up and race. I give my life for skiing and I want it so badly that I hope these Olympics will be my time and I can accomplish my childhood dream.

Talk about your work ethic.
This summer I don’t have a life. I’m in the gym six to eight hours a day, six days a week. I don’t go out with friends very often, I don’t get to do the normal stuff people do. I give all my time for skiing. I worked my whole life to be at this point in my career. I didn’t go to prom, I didn’t go to regular high school, I sacrificed all these things so I could ski. I know how much sacrificed and I’m willing to sacrifice even more to prepare for these Games. I hope it pays off and I can accomplish my dreams.

How will you prepare for next season?
After the Finals I’ll have a month off. In May I’m going to start working out with my Red Bull trainers. In June and July I’ll be in Europe for about six weeks with the Red Bull team solely on physical fitness, trying to get stronger. We’ll do the similar preparation in Chile and New Zealand. My goals in the summer are to work on GS. I’ really hoping to get a podium in GS and to keep working on all my events. There will always be young girls coming up and I want to compete again next year for the overall.

Do you think you have a chance of catching Phil Mahre’s 27 wins or Bode Miller’s 31?
In a few years I hope I can break those records. If I stay healthy and stay on this track I really hope to be in the position like Renate Goetschl and maybe get close to [Annemarie] Moeser-Proell. It’s a long ways off and I have a lot of work to do and hopefully I can break those records in a few years.

How important is carrying early season momentum into the Olympics?
It’s really important for me to start out the season well and have that confidence. But what has already given me the confidence is from the World Championships this year. It was the first time I was able to win a gold medal in a big event. Now I know I can do it. That gives me a huge amount of confidence I have never had before. Hopefully the season starts well and I can carry that confidence.

Any words to your friends in Vail?
I’m so thankful for everyone who has supported me in Vail. I get so many messages form my friends and it’s comforting to know that friends back home support you, so thank you all.

How important was Ski and Snowboard Club Vail?
It was a huge part of how I got to where I am. Going to SSV gave me the downhill training. I was able to learn to ski speed, I had great coaches and great friends. It’s because of that training and skiing downhill with them that I’m able to be a downhill skier now.

Do you feel people will notice you and your sport? And are you a fan of other sports?
I do think people are starting to pay more attention to skiing because of my success. There’s a lot of things going on, like this press conference today, so I think things are picking up. It may have to do with the fact we’re leading into an Olympic year. It’s great to get the recognition and know that people are wishing you well.

I really love to watch tennis. It’s my favorite sport outside skiing. It’s still not baseball or basketball, but for me, it’s a really great sport.

What do you do to keep yourself calm?
Last night I cooked rice and sweet and sour chicken. I cooked for all the Red Bull guys and my husband. I like eating with people and having our friends around. I really relaxed yesterday. It’s a tough year at the finals because all of the teams are eating together and it’s easy to get sick. I try to stay away from that. I did a good workout session yesterday and had a good therapy session so I felt ready to go. Today I knew exactly what I needed to do. I wanted to finish the season strong. I just executed my plan. It was a good feeling to finish strong.

How is the thumb holding up?
My thumb’s doing pretty well. I’m actually getting therapy on it right now and it hurts. It’s fine but it’s just tough to deal with because I can’t use that hand – I can’t buckle my boots, I can’t put on my clothes, it’s a pain in the butt. The main problem is I can’t fully push out of the start and that’s significantly slowing me down. All that said, I know I have to ski more aggressively and I’ve been able to compensate for that time lost with more aggressive skiing.

Here’s what Lindsey and her coach had to say in the finish area at the 2009 World Cup:
It was a perfect ending. I really wanted to finish today strong and winning the race was awesome. It’s been a tough season with a lot of bad weather races for downhill. But I fought through it and was able to win the downhill and the overall. It’s been amazing and I’m just really, really happy. It was definitely an exclamation point on the end of the season. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it again tomorrow in the super G, which is really important for me.

It felt good today. I was really charging. My first training run wasn’t very good so I knew I really had to attack. I did it and executed my plan. Some of the jumps were a little bigger than I anticipated. It’s great to end the season this way and gives me confidence for tomorrow. The super G title is on the line tomorrow so I’ll need all my energy and focus for that. But right now to be done with the overall and downhill title is really important.

I’m definitely thinking about the super G title. I’m only 15 points behind so I’m definitely looking forward to that.

Winning the downhill title the second time in a row is great. I worked really hard and I’m really, really happy.

I didn’t know if I could do it this year. To win the overall is so difficult – there are so many aspects involved and you have to be really strong from the start of the season to the end. I’m just really happy and thankful I was able to do it again.

In some ways having the overall title finished up is a bit of a relief and helps me relax. But tomorrow I’m fighting for the super G title. So I have to wait one more day and then be thankful that the season is over.

It’s been an amazing year. Going into the season my goal was to defend my World Cup title and was hoping for one World Championship medal. To come away with two gold, the overall and downhill titles is more than I could ever have asked for. And I still have a chance tomorrow to get the super G title and hopefully I can do that too.

Jim Tracy, Women’s Head Coach:
You’ve seen a lot of ski racing, have you ever seen a racer so committed?
A lot of it has to do with confidence – the confidence in her decision to be the best. It’s evident to win the overall and downhill title last year was a huge accomplishment. But to back it up and do it again the next year is tough. You see it in any professional sport – the toughest thing to do is to repeat.

She wanted to finish the overall last week in the slalom but that didn’t work out. And she was angry that she had to come into the finals to seal the deal. Not doing that [clinching last week] was a huge motivating factor for her. And to be seven seconds faster than her training run proves she’s extremely confident and committed to being the best.

Lindsey’s talked about the Team behind her. Talk about the Team effort.
It’s been a long process. To achieve these things [at national team level] it started five or six years ago with Team staff that were hired 12-15 years ago. The accolades need to go to Alex’ [speed coach Alex Hoedelmoser] crew – Alex, Chip [White] and Frankie [Kelble]. These guys have gone about their business race after race and doing whatever it takes to help Lindsey be confident and be where she needs to be. There’s a commitment from them every day to find the best training, to do the best video. And without the support from the federation (USSA) we would be nowhere.