Lindsey Vonn doesn’t want health or history to dictate when her storied career ends.
With yet another knee injury behind her and a major record within reach, the three-time Olympic medalist is determined to retire on her terms.
Vonn is ready to return from injury and resume her pursuit of the World Cup wins record. She is four victories shy of Ingemar Stenmark’s 86 victories, making her the only skier to even get close to the Swedish great. Matching that mark is a goal for Vonn, but she doesn’t want it to become an obsession before she retires later this year.
“The record won’t define me, whether I get it or not,” Vonn told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I don’t need 87 wins to be able to continue the work of my foundation, to help kids, inspire people to be healthy and active and be positive and strive to reach their dreams and goals. I don’t need that record to accomplish those things. Once I retire, 87 won’t really matter anymore.
“It’s not going to change to way I leave the sport.”
The 34-year-old will retire after the season with a long list of accomplishments. She won downhill gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games, eight World Cup season titles in downhill, five more in super-G, and has four overall World Cup championships.
She was a good bet to catch Stenmark, too, before hyperextending her left knee and spraining a ligament while training in November. She was set to return Wednesday, but the downhill and super-G in St. Anton, Austria, were canceled because of heavy snowfall. Vonn had hoped to use St. Anton as a stepping stone to the speed events in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Jan. 19-20.
Vonn injured the knee a week before her scheduled first race in Lake Louise, Alberta. She had planned to retire after this season, but now plans to compete at Lake Louis once more in November 2019.
“My knee feels really good, surprisingly a lot better than I thought,” Vonn said. “I was on crutches for a while, and it just took a bit to get the strength back. I feel really strong when I am skiing and don’t feel any pain in my left knee.”
Vonn’s right knee is permanently damaged from previous crashes, and she wears braces on both legs. The 34-year-old has had to fight back from injuries many times: torn ACLs, fractures near her left knee, broken ankle, sliced right thumb, a concussion and more. She’s limited now to about three runs per day, and her achy body can’t handle the workload of other skiers.
“Unfortunately, my body can’t take it anymore. I had too many surgeries,” Vonn said. “It’s pretty painful to ski every day.
“I want to be able to ski with my kids one day, and I want to be able to be active and not be in pain all the time,” she added. “I am in the last 50 meters of my marathon career and I am fighting my way until the end and I am not giving up. But at the same time, I know where the finish line is, and that is Lake Louise next year.”
Her final tour includes next month’s World Championships in Are, Sweden. She has rented a house and will invite family and friends to the Swedish resort where she won her first medals at a major event — two silvers in both downhill and super-G at the 2007 worlds.
“And Stenmark is Swedish,” she said with a laugh. “I have a couple of more races after that, but it would close the circle on the big championships.”
Vonn recognizes that she’s close to “a very meaningful record.” She just isn’t going to let it sway her plans.
“I never expected to be in this position,” she said. “I didn’t grow up thinking, ‘Oh, I want to beat Stenmark’s record.’ I wanted to be the best ski racer in the world, and I wanted to win the Olympics. I think I have pretty much done that.”