Lindsey Vonn – ski racer who transcended gender divide

Lindsey Vonn will bow out not only as one of the most successful skiers of all time, but also one of the most recognisable sportswomen in the world, bringing stardust to the pistes.

Third placed US Lindsey Vonn celebrates with the national flag during the flowers ceremony after the Women’s Downhill event of the 2019 FIS Alpine Ski World Championships at the National Arena in Are, Sweden on February 10, 2019. – Vonn, 34, who will retire from competitive skiing, is the most successful women skier of all time, with a record 20 World Cup titles to her name and 82 victories on the circuit. (Photo by FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT / AFP)

Vonn is a hard-nosed adrenaline junkie who unashamedly oozes feminity, a heady mix that saw her not only throwing herself down slopes at motorway-coasting speeds but also posing in revealing swimwear for Sports Illustrated and gracing the red carpet of the Oscars.

Blonde and bubbly, confident in the spotlight, she is also a knowledgeable talking head, her fluency in German opening up a whole new level of respect and followers in the heartland of alpine skiing in central Europe.

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Through savvy use of social media, high-profile sponsorship deals and even a relationship with Tiger Woods, the 34-year-old has transcended the sporting gender divide to such a degree that the focus was, more often than not, on her rather than her faster male racers.

Vonn, who made her Olympic debut in Salt Lake City in 2002 as a precocious 17-year-old, went out with a bronze in the downhill at the world championships in Are, Sweden, the final race of her 19-season career.

– Short of Stenmark –
It means she will come up four victories short in her bid to chase down Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time record of 86 World Cup wins.

Vonn’s 82 World Cup triumphs included 43 in the downhill, 28 super-Gs, four giant slaloms, two slalom races and five combined events. She is one of just six women to have won in five disciplines.

She revived her hopes of chasing down Stenmark’s total by winning five races last season, but a knee injury suffered at Lake Louise proved too difficult to fully recover from.

Vonn, the 2010 downhill Olympic champion, who crashed out of Tuesday’s super-G in Are, won double world gold (downhill, super-G) in Val d’Isere in 2009.

But by her own high standards, she has struggled at world championships thereafter, failing to win any other golds, with three silvers and two third-place efforts.

She will retire, however, as an all-time great of the sport, having also won four overall World Cup crowns (2008, 2009, 2010, 2012) — one of only two female skiers to do so, along with Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proell.

She has also won a record 8 World Cup season titles in the downhill discipline (2008–2013, 2015, 2016), five titles in super-G (2009–2012, 2015), and three consecutive titles in the combined (2010–2012).

In 2016, she won her 20th World Cup crystal globe title, the overall record for men or women, surpassing Stenmark’s previous record of 19 between 1975-1984.

– Household name –
Born Lindsey Caroline Kildow in 1984, the American married fellow ski racer Thomas Vonn in 2007, but the couple split after four years of marriage, with the divorce finalised in 2013.

It did nothing to affect Vonn’s racing and she managed the rare feat of being an athlete from the sometime-closeted world of alpine skiing who went on to become a household name.

The American also admitted to being a “brand” whose bottom line could only increase by high-profile — and sometime uncomfortable — media outings such as on the David Letterman and Jay Reno US TV chat shows.

Celebrity status as Woods’ girlfriend also upped tabloid interest.

Her 2016 memoir “Strong is the New Beautiful” was a New York Times bestseller.

But in 2017, she found herself in the spotlight after making comments about the US government and President Donald Trump which caused a massive backlash, much of it negative.

Injuries have disrupted Vonn’s career, as they do with many a skier’s.

She missed almost all of the 2013 and 2014 seasons, including the Sochi Olympics.

Speaking when she had 59 World Cup wins to her name, back in 2013, three off the then-women’s record of 62 held by Moser-Proell, Vonn laid bare what winning meant to her.

“Records are the only thing which remains of an athlete. The only thing that people will remember,” she said.

After announcing her retirement, Vonn hinted at how bitter the pill might be when she said: “Retiring without reaching my goal is what will stay with me forever.”

Vonn insists, however, that she remains most proud of her foundation, which provides educational grants “to give future generations the tools they need to reach their goals and discover their grit within”.

“Being in this position as a professional athlete, you have an opportunity to make other people’s lives better,” Vonn said.

“I am trying to utilise this position as much as possible. Obviously I’ll do that even more when I’m done skiing. Of all my accomplishments, that’s probably one of my biggest, starting my foundation.”