Crowd favorite, cheerful soul and true fighter: in the first part of our portrait of Lindsey Vonn, we look at how the girl from Minnesota set out to become the best ski racer in the world.
“If you work hard, it will pay off in the end,” Lindsey Vonn says. It’s a philosophy of life closely connected to the other mantra that the athlete formerly known as Lindsey Kildow has followed throughout her life, both metaphorically and literally: “When you fall down, just get up again.” In the meantime, she has added a footnote to this philosophy: if you fall, get up stronger, hungrier and more ambitious. “Setbacks help you to concentrate,” she says. “When successes fall into your lap, you lose sight of your goals.”
But as we look forward to another action-packed season for Vonn, just as likely to be success-filled, we take a look at the formative years that made her the athlete she has become.
1987–98: From nursery slopes to gifted racer
Born in 1984, Vonn’s earliest experiences on skis were in a US state not particularly known for being mountainous, Minnesota. But with a grandfather and a father who were competitive skiers, little Lindsey started carving the local hill aged just three. “I began racing at seven, and by nine I was doing international events,” she remembers. Her talent as a small child proved so big that the whole family considered relocating for the sake of better training opportunities. Eventually, her parents, brothers and sister all moved to Vail.
1999–2002: Lindsey takes to the international ski stage
The youngster came on in leaps and bounds. At the age of 14, she became the only female American ever to win Italy’s Trofeo Topolino contest – dubbed ‘Junior-Junior Worlds’ – and her name was entered into the Golden Book of Champions alongside girls who had gone on to win the Overall World Cup title. In her first year of top-level competition, 15-year-old Lindsey finished on the podium at several NorAm events. Her first International Ski Federation (FIS) victory came in 2001 – that same year, she also bagged a Super Series win, as well as the Bronze in Combined at the US National Championships. In the same season, she raced in her first Slalom World Cup. In the Super-G in Val d’Isère, she scored her first World Cup points, finishing 26th. When Lindsey joined the US Olympic Ski Team in 2002, she was still under the radar, but a sixth-place finish in the Combined soon captured everyone’s attention. She focused all her energy into improving speed and consistency, and the effort paid off with two US National Championships, plus numerous medals at the Junior World Championships and World Cup events.
2003–5: Lindsey achieves World Cup success
Vonn’s progress continued in 2003 with a silver medal at the Junior World Championships, as well as a silver and a bronze at the US Nationals. She continued to progress in 2003–4, winning two gold medals at the US Championships, two medals at the Junior Worlds, and making her first World Cup podium in Cortina d’Ampezzo. The following season was even more exciting, with Lindsey capturing her maiden World Cup race victory and attending her first World Championships. She racked up 13 top-five finishes in World Cup and World Championship events, standing on the podium six times and ending the season ranked sixth overall in the world. By the start of 2005, Lindsey was right up where she belonged, with the best ski racers in the world. But she wanted more. Nothing less than the best would do.
In part two of our portrait of Lindsey, we’ll discover how a fateful meeting would give her career an unexpected push…