DPA/Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
American star Lindsey Vonn has already written herself into the record books but ahead of the forthcoming Alpine skiing world championships in St Moritz, she is targeting further success as she continues her latest comeback.
“I just work hard and when I come back I trust what I’m doing, I trust in myself. I know how to win races, I know how to ski fast so as long as my body is cooperating and strong I know what to do,” Vonn told dpa in an interview at the Cortina d’Ampezzo World Cup weekend.
The 32-year-old Vonn has proved time and time again that winning is in her blood with an Olympic gold from 2010, two world golds from 2009 and the women’s record of 76 World Cup victories helping her to four overall titles.
The last of those World Cup wins came just over a week ago in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the first of a season effectively halved due to a severe knee injury and a broken arm.
“Lindsey Vonn is a flipping BEAST. Welcome back,” was the reaction of compatriot and standings leader Mikaela Shiffrin on social media to that win, one which Vonn agrees is a highlight in her career.
“It’s one of my best, I think. I thought it was pretty good but my dad said it was great and it kind of got me thinking about it,” she said.
“Everything, all together. Because of my hand, because of the injury, because of conditions, because no training, you put everything together and I think it was a really great performance. I’m really proud of what I was able to do there.”
Vonn’s schedule at the February 6-19 championships in Switzerland includes the downhill, super-g and super combined, with the chance of the giant slalom being thrown in as well.
She believes two gold medals is a realistic target and though her final tune-up in Cortina did not go exactly to plan, crashes in the downhill training and race are unlikely to dent her confidence.
“When I’m in the starting gate, I trust myself, I think a lot of people who come back from injuries don’t,” she said. “[They] don’t trust themselves or get scared about crashing again, I’m don’t get scared about crashing again. I know it’s a risk and I just accept it.”
Vonn is also adept at accepting the pain which comes with being an elite athlete in a sport so physically demanding – and at times downright dangerous – as skiing.
“It doesn’t really bother me. It’s just pain, it’s all in your mind. I had a trainer once, he’s from Poland and I spent the summer long training with him in Monaco. He would make me run until I puked and he said it’s only in your mind,” she explained.
“It really taught me how to push myself to the limit. You can overcome a lot if you don’t think it’s a big deal – if you don’t let your mind think that it hurts.”
Pain is not only physical though and the mental aspect of trying to stay positive while sitting out for months and making slow, gradual comebacks should not be underestimated.
“It’s really hard. I was in Vail (Colorado) for the first two weeks after [the latest arm] surgery and I had to leave,” she said. “I had to get away from the snow, it was really depressing me. Everyone’s out there training and skiing and I’m not.
“I had to go and just kind of block skiing out completely and just focus on my hand, I went to LA, spent time with my sister, and just cleared my mind.
“When I’m doing rehab it’s important for me to have goals, to have something to look forward to but not dwell on the fact I can’t do something ... I know myself and how to try to keep myself positive, that’s looking forward to something and that’s skiing or just trying to distract myself hanging out with my sister.”
Injury ruled Vonn out of the last Winter Olympics in 2014 but though looking forward to Pyeongchang 2018, it is Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time record of 86 World Cup victories which is now her primary goal.
“It would be incredible. Never in a million years did I ever think I would even be close to breaking it so to get this far is more than I could ever ask for,” she said. “But I still have nine to tie or 10 to break so still have a little way to go but it’s getting closer.
“I want another chance to get an Olympic medal, missing Sochi was a really big blow for me personally, it was something I was really looking forward to.
“But I think after I retire and I look back, what would be the most important thing to me, would be that, if I could do it, would be the record.”
And would another serious injury make retirement an option?
“Oh no, I’d come back. I have things that I want to accomplish, the record and Olympics. Those are some pretty big goals of mine and it would take a lot to stop me.”
May the force be with you.
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