Lindsey Vonn's World Cup skiing victories have already earned her a pair of cows. But what she really wants, most of all, is to be the GOAT.
Greatest Of All Time is a title reserved for the best to ever play their sports. It's usually bestowed upon men: Michael Jordan in basketball, Wayne Gretzky in hockey, Usain Bolt in sprinting, Roger Federer in tennis, and so on.
"There's always the connotation of 'Are you the best female? Are you the best male?'" Vonn said earlier this year, at an athlete summit in Los Angeles. "I don't want to be known as the best female skier. I want to be known as the greatest of all time.
"It's not necessarily fair that the men get that title most of the time, but that is what it is."
If anyone can change that, it's Vonn.
At 33, the American powerhouse has won 77 World Cup races across all five alpine disciplines: downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and combined. She is a four-time World Cup overall champion and has won 16 more Crystal Globe trophies as the season champion in a single discipline. She owns two world titles — downhill and super-G in 2009 — and won Olympic gold in the downhill and bronze in the super G at Vancouver 2010.
(If you're wondering, the cows came in lieu of prize money for World Cup victories in Val d'Isere, France. At the 2009 world championships, she won a goat — yes, an actual goat.)
If she can win 10 more World Cup races, Vonn will beat the all-time record held by the male Swedish skier Ingemar Stenmark, who won 86 between 1974 and 1989. But the clock is ticking. There is no room for error or injury.
Vonn has missed portions of three of the last five seasons because of injuries, and says her "biggest concern is just staying healthy."
"It's important for me to have just as much rest as I have training," she said. "If I'm burnt out I'm not going to perform my best, and it also puts me at a higher risk of injury. So the goal is to be as healthy and in shape as possible, as strong as I've ever been, but also being rested and as fresh as possible.
"Obviously, I'm mentally extremely motivated, but physically keeping that freshness and — especially at my age — making sure that I'm prepared for every race is going to be extremely important."
One of those races has already passed her by. The first giant slalom World Cup of the season, in Soelden, Austria, did not go well for Vonn. Granted, it was her first GS in nearly two years, but she struggled to find her rhythm throughout her run and finished 34th.
'Win all the races'
This weekend's downhill and super-G races at Lake Louise (watch them live on CBCSports.ca beginning Friday at 2:20 p.m. ET) could easily turn things around.
Of Vonn's World Cup victories, 18 have come at the Alberta resort, often two or three at a time. The last time she raced at Lake Louise was in 2015, when she swept the three events, winning both downhill races and the super-G.
She's done so well there, they've nicknamed it Lake Lindsey.
- Vonn still wants to compete vs. men at Lake Louise
"I'm going to approach Lake Louise just like I do every year, which is just trying to win all the races," Vonn said. "[Doing well there] gives me a lot of confidence and it kind of gets the ball rolling in a very positive way."
There is something delightful in watching Vonn win. In the starting gate, she is intensely focused. On the course, she keeps her muscled five-foot-10-inch frame tucked tightly, digging her edges in at up to 145 kilometres per hour. When she crosses the finish line and sees her result there's a whoop of delight and a giant smile. Relief and victory, in one.
But where is the relief when one is chasing a number — and the opportunities to reach it are ever fewer? There are 16 World Cup downhill and super-G races remaining this season, but Vonn hasn't won 10 in a single season since capturing 12 in 2012.
The next year, she fractured her tibial plateau and tore the ACL and MCL in her right knee, scrapping her 2014 season. She had nine victories in 2016, but cut her season short after fracturing her knee during a World Cup in February. Then, last November, she broke her right arm in a training run, which forced her to miss Lake Louise altogether.
Vonn has predicted she'll compete for two more seasons. Her plan is to keep working hard and stay determined as she chases Stenmark.
"This record means the most to me because it's so quantifiable," she said. "The other records and things, where you're talking about 'Who is the greatest skier of all time?', It's hard to really quantify that. But to have the most wins of any human being on Earth, ever? That is amazing.
"At least for that moment, I can be the best ever."...Read more