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Lindsey Vonn is home in the central Rockies for a few days for what she describes as a “pivotal” Olympic training block, family time—and, of course, turkey—as the renowned alpine skier makes final preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Vonn missed the 2014 Olympics in Sochi; her last appearance on the Olympic stage was in 2010 when she took home gold and bronze medals. “Eight years has been a very long time,” she said recently from Copper Mountain, where she’s been training for the past two weeks. “I’ve been waiting for this, and I’m ready.”
On this day, America’s greatest skier of all time was wearing an ice pack on her right knee, which she said is simply customary these days following a morning of training. “I feel great,” she added. “I’m always trying to stay ahead of it, so I ice [the knee] after every training session. I don’t want it to get swollen. It’s better to be ahead of the curve.”
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Torn knee ligaments sidelined Vonn from the Sochi games in 2014, and she has since sustained numerous other injuries—most notably fractures to the left knee in a 2016 crash, and a broken arm in a training crash at Copper Mountain last year that left her with severe nerve damage in her right hand.
Vonn wants to become not only America’s greatest skier of all time, but also the world’s winningest skier of all time. That honor has been held since 1989 by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark, who won 86 international races. To date, Vonn has 77 victories on the World Cup circuit, but breaking the record for most wins isn’t her goal this season. “This season my focus is 100 percent on the Olympics,” she said. That’s why I said I’d ski another season, because I don’t want the pressure of [breaking] the record.”
Vonn’s next races are the World Cup downhills and super G in Lake Louise, Alberta, December 1-3, where she has notched 17 career victories. Although Vonn has been training in South America and Europe throughout the summer and fall, these weeks on the top-to-bottom course at Copper is crucial before the race season takes off.
“This camp is always pivotal for us,” she said. “It’s the last training block we get before we start hitting the speed circuit. It’s the last chance to figure the equipment out. It’s usually that the snow is perfect, similar to conditions on the women’s World Cup, so you get the information you need for your equipment that you don’t get in summer training.”
For Vonn, training in Colorado also brings huge mental benefits and provides a final emotional boost before leaving the country for the winter. “Obviously, being home is awesome,” she said. “My family is here. My dad just moved to Vail. My brother lives here. We’re going to have a huge Thanksgiving dinner. It’s really nice to be home and focused, to be putting the final touches on the preparation period.”
Vonn’s primary goal leading up to the Games is to avoid injuries—but she adds that in a sport where athletes reach speeds of 80 mph going downhill, some things are simply out of one’s control. (Vonn in particular was referring to the recent death of French downhiller David Poisson, who crashed while training in Canada as Vonn and dozens of other Olympic skiers were training at Copper.)
“Everyone asks me if I’m afraid after so many crashes,” Vonn said. “Do I take the foot off the gas? While I’m smarter and I try to manage the risk better, as we saw with David, anything can happen. You can die. At the end of the day, it’s a dangerous sport. [So] getting to February healthy is the only thing to really focus on. I’ve been injured quite a few times, but my passion hasn’t changed. I love going fast. I’m always going to try to win.”