ARE, Sweden (March 11) – An Olympic or World Championship gold means you were best on one given day. But a World Cup crystal globe symbolizes excellence over six grueling months chasing ski racing's white circus around the world from mountain to mountain. The U.S. Ski Team's Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) put herself into the record books with an unprecedented second straight women's Audi FIS World Cup overall crown Wednesday, clinching at the World Cup Finals in Sweden with a win in the downhill.
Her triumph further establishes her legacy, following in the footsteps of 1998 Olympic champion Picabo Street, 1983 World Cup titlist Tamara McKinney and the legendary Andrea Mead-Lawrence, who won two gold at the 1952 Olympics.
"I didn't know if I could do it this year," she said. "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 any professional sport – the toughest thing to do is to repeat," said U.S. Ski Team Women's Head Coach Jim Tracy. "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."
Vonn did it in convincing style, taking the globe with three races remaining in the season. She clinched her second straight World Cup downhill title in February. Thursday, she has an opportunity to add another title in the super G. And she's accomplished all this while still brandishing a splint on the thumb she cut a month ago at the World Championships, where she won two gold.
Coming into the 2008-09 season, Vonn knew she would be a target. And she knew something would need to change. She was already the strongest speed skier in the world. And she knew that if she wanted to win the overall again, she would need to improve in slalom her worst event. That she did, picking up two wins and actually challenging for the World Cup globe.
"I was really surprised to have a slalom win and was excited about that," said Vonn. "My super G has also been surprising. And I'm I the hunt for the super G title tomorrow and hopefully I can get the 15 points I need. I was quite surprised but really happy with the season."
With three events remaining this week, Vonn now has 21 career World Cup wins – including seven this season. And she owns four crystal globes, with a shot at one more Thursday in Sweden.
Vonn is a textbook example of the athletic development principle of winning at every level. Growing up in the Twin Cities area (Burnsville, MN), she was on skis at two before moving into Erich Sailer's renowned U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) club program at the tiny Buck Hill Ski Area. Before she was 10, the rising U.S. Ski Team star Picabo Street became her hero. And when Street won the 1995 World Cup downhill title, the 10-year-old vowed she would do the same one day. They met that summer at a ski shop autograph session and became lifelong friends.
At age 11, she medaled in the 1996 USSA Junior Olympics. A year later, she was a Whistler Cup champion. In 1999, at 14, she became the only American to win at the prestigious Trofeo Topolino children's race in Italy. As a 15-year-old, she won silver in the downhill at her first U.S. Alpine Championships. She continued to progress through the NorAm Cup, World Junior Championships and the 2002 Olympics, where she had the best U.S. women's result. She was on her first World Cup podium in 2003-04 and a winner one year later.
"Success like Lindsey's doesn't happen overnight," said USSA Alpine Director Jesse Hunt. "It takes time and people – her family, her club coaches, the hundreds of volunteers who have supported her in races since she was 10 years old. It takes great clubs programs like Buck Hill and Vail to provide the opportunity for talented young skiers like her.
"Lindsey's success is the result of those opportunities she was provided and the hard work she has put in all along the way."
Today's hard work for Vonn has been the six to eight hours a day she put in at the U.S. Ski Team's training facility in Park City all summer and fall to prepare for the season. On the snow, Tracy and his staff, including Downhill Coach Alex Hoedelmoser and Technical Coach Trevor Wagner working with her on tactics and strategies to win races.
"It's been a long process," said Tracy. "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, the best of everything."
From Vonn's side, it's hard work but no secret. "I just set goals," she said. "Each year in the summer I set new goals for myself that's what keeps me motivated. For me, I just look to the next goal – to try to defend the overall and downhill title, the World Championships, and next year will be the Olympics. For me, there's always something to keep me motivated. I'm only looking to improve myself and find more speed. I'm going to work even harder this summer. "
Vonn is thrilled to celebrate her success with a second straight title. But she's also quick to remember that 2009-10 is a new season. And that gold in Vancouver will not be a test of who is best over six months – but who is best on one given day. And while others are extolling her success, Vonn remains humble.
"Every athlete wants to create a special place in the record books in their career," said Vonn. "Right now I'm just trying to ski the best I can every day, win as many races as I can, and hopefully, at the end of my career, people will look at me as a great racer. But I'm a long way from being finished and I'm looking forward to the next few years of racing and hopefully I'll make some mark on skiing."
Lindsey Vonn Career Highlights
2009 Second World Cup overall and downhill titles (24 years old)
2009 World Championship DH, SG gold (24 years old)
2008 World Cup overall and downhill champion (23 years old)
2007 World Championship DH, SG silver (22 years old)
2006 Olympic Spirit Award after crashing in DH training then finishing seventh (21 years old)
2005 First World Cup win; five podiums (20 years old)
2004 First U.S. Championships titles, Alyeska, 1st SG, SL (19 years old)
2004 World Junior Championships, 2nd DH, 3rd SG, 3rd GS, 4th SG, 4th CO (19 years old)
2004 First World Cup podium, Cortina DH (19 years old)
2003 World Junior Championships, 2nd DH (18 years old)
2002 World Junior Championships, 6th SG (17 years old)
2002 Olympic Team; best U.S. women's result, sixth in combined (17 years old)
2001 World Junior Championships, 5th SL (16 years old)
2000 First World Cup, Park City (16 years old)
2000 First NorAm Cup win (16 years old)
2000 Named to U.S. Ski Team (15 years old)
2000 First FIS race wins (15 years old)
2000 First World Junior Championship Team, 14th DH (15 years old)
2000 First U.S. Championships, Jackson, 2nd DH (15 years old)
1999 USSA team, Trofeo Topolino SL champion (14 years old)
1998 USSA Junior Olympics J3 SG/GS/CO champion (13 years old)
1998 USSA team, Trofeo Topolino GS silver (13 years old)
1997 USSA team, Whistler Cup GS champion (12 years old)
1997 USSA Junior Olympic J3 SG/CO silver, GS bronze (12 years old)
1996 First USSA Junior Olympics J3 SL silver (11 years old)