With a record 78 World Cup wins and two Olympic medals to boot, Lindsey Vonn is the most decorated female ski racer of all time. And this February, she hopes to up her number of victories at the Olympics in South Korea, where she'll race in her signature speed events. Despite sustaining recent injuries - like breaking her arm in November and hurting her back in December - the 33-year-old will stop at nothing until she grabs gold.
Here's everything you need to know about the unstoppable force on the slopes that is Lindsey Vonn.
Vonn hails from Minnesota. Her father, Alan Kildow, is a former junior national ski champion who put her on skis at age 3, near their Burnsville, Minnesota home. She trained at Buck Hill with her father's former coach, 2005 U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame inductee Erich Sailer, according to a 2008 Sports Illustrated profile.
And she quickly surpassed her peers.
"That was not the greatest way to make new friends," she told The New York Times of her experience growing up. "I would finish a race and all the 14-year-olds at the bottom would be crying because a 10-year-old had beaten them."
A rift in the family
In 1997, when she was in sixth grade, Vonn and her mother, Linda, moved to Vail, Colorado, where she raced for the famed Ski Club Vail. The next year, her dad and four siblings (Karin, Reed, Dylan, and Laura) followed. "It was hard for them," Vonn told Sports Illustrated of the move. "Vail's a really tight community. There aren't that many kids there. It wasn't an easy adjustment."
At 14, Vonn earned a spot on the U.S. development team. And four years later, she made the U.S. Women's A team. She excelled at both the technical events, like slalom, and the speed events, like downhill. At age 16, she made her World Cup debut in Park City, Utah.
Later that year, Vonn, then 17, met former U.S. alpine ski racer Thomas Vonn (nine years her senior) at her Olympic debut at the 2002 Salt Lake Games, where she finished sixth in the combined event, the highest placing by an American woman skier that year, according to The New York Times. The two tied the knot in September 2007 and Thomas began focusing his attention on his wife's career. He became her coach, adviser, manager, and "sports psychologist," according to The New York Times. However, the marriage caused a rift in Vonn's relationship with her father, whom she didn't invite to the wedding and stopped speaking to for six years.
Vonn often cited her ex-husband's guidance and moral support for helping make her the top American female racer in history, according to the Times.
"My husband is my life, besides skiing," she even wrote on her MySpace page in 2008. "So don't even try to get my number!"
In 2004, Vonn stood on the World Cup podium for the first time, after a third place finish in downhill at Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. Four years later, she won the overall World Cup title, becoming the second American woman to do so. She kept up her winning streak and took home the overall World Cup title again in 2009 and 2010.
During her first event at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Vonn picked up a gold medal in the downhill at Whistler Blackcomb, beating longtime U.S. rival Julia Mancuso by 0.56 seconds, according to the Washington Post. She became the first American woman to win in downhill at the Olympics and in the super-G (super giant slalom), she nabbed a bronze medal. They were her first and, to date, only Olympic medals.
Two years later, in 2012, Vonn nabbed an impressive fourth overall World Cup title. The win was exciting, but the year 2012 was tainted in turmoil for the skier. At the end of November 2011, Vonn and her husband filed for divorce. "Everyone saw me on TV, or read articles, and it was all about my great marriage, the white picket fence, all this success and my perfect life," she told PEOPLE. "But behind the scenes, it was a struggle."
Vonn admitted she suffered from bouts of depression, which only grew worse in the last months of her marriage to her husband-turned-coach, according to a Vogue profile.
"[Mixing love and skiing] doesn't work," she told the magazine. "I think there needs to be a certain kind of understanding because it's very hard for me to relate to someone who doesn't do sports at a high level. That part is necessary. But to have business in the relationship is very difficult. It definitely did not work for me, and I would not recommend it. I would also not recommend getting married!"
Vonn met Tiger Woods at a charity event in 2012, only two years after his massive cheating scandal broke. "We talked a lot, corresponded a lot, and he was a good friend who was always there. And then it became more," she told Vogue. "It's amazing. Life changes very quickly, in a very positive way, if you let it. I am a little bit of a late bloomer. I'm delayed. Having a delayed reaction here! But I figured it out."
But while her relationship bloomed, her professional career came to a screeching halt, after devastating crashes ended both her 2013 and 2014 seasons.
In the 2014-2015 season, fittingly called her "comeback year" on the U.S. Ski and Snowboard official site, Vonn lead the way in the first-ever historic U.S. podium sweep (along with Stacey Cook and Julia Mancuso) and landed the all-time World Cup win record for women.
Later that year, in May 2015, Vonn and Tiger announced their amicable split after three years of dating. "I will always cherish the memories that we've created together. Unfortunately, we both lead incredibly hectic lives that force us to spend a majority of our time apart," Vonn said in a statement at the time. "I will always admire and respect Tiger. He and his beautiful family will always hold a special place in my heart."
A golden future
After missing the 2014 Sochi Games due to a knee injury, Vonn is set to make her Olympic return in Pyeongchang this February. Although she suffered both an arm and a back injury in the past few months, she scored a win in Val d'Isere in December, her first World Cup victory since January 2017. She held back tears at the race because her father, who had never seen his daughter race at the famous French resort, was in the crowd.
"I guess I'm not a washed-up old hag," she said. "I think I proved myself, and karma definitely comes back around. I've got some good karma coming my way."
She told the Vail Daily: "I'm 33, I've been injured quite a few times, but my passion for the sport has never changed. Since I started skiing and started racing when I was 8 years old, I've loved what I do, and I don't want to stop doing it. As long as I'm enjoying it and I don't have to use too much duct tape to hold my body together, I'm good."
Since the victory, she has spent time training in Aspen, reports TIME.
While preparing for what TIME says is likely Vonn's last chance to increase her Olympic medal count (and she's hoping for gold!), Vonn caused quite a stir in December after telling CNN that she would not accept an invitation from President Trump to visit the White House after the Olympics. "I hope to represent the people of the United States," Vonn said, "not the president."
Some praised Vonn for her stance, while others, she claims, hoped she might "break [her] neck" for her speaking out.
"It seems to me that we must lead with understanding and strive for unity in our relationships throughout the world. As for myself, my recent comments opened up my eyes as to how divided we are right now. It is hurtful to read comments where people are hoping I break my neck or that God is punishing me for being 'anti-Trump.' We need to find a way to put aside our differences and find common ground in communicating. Is it wrong to hope for a better world? All of this is much bigger than skiing and the Olympics. I am going to take the next two months to focus on what I can do and right now that is competing for my country," she wrote on Instagram.
The Games are especially significant for Vonn, who lost her 88-year-old grandfather in November. She will race in his honor.
"If it wasn't for my grandfather I wouldn't be racing," Vonn told CNN. "My grandfather taught my father how to ski. It's because of him that it is in our family. It was a huge loss to me and my family. I think about him all the time, especially when I'm racing. And I feel closer to him when I'm skiing."
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