By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – Already the most decorated woman in World Cup Alpine skiing with 77 wins, Lindsey Vonn has set her sights on outdoing the men as well.
The 33-year-old American is chasing a record once thought untouchable — the all-time mark of 86 World Cup victories held by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark.
She is also eager to add another Olympic downhill gold to the one she claimed at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games and then next season test herself against the best male skiers in a World Cup race.
“I have more to do,” Vonn told Reuters at a United States Olympic Committee (USOC) event in New York’s Times Square to mark the start of the 100-day countdown to the Pyeongchang Olympics.
“What keeps me going is I love what I do. I love ski racing, I love going fast.
“I love skiing on the World Cup, I love the partnerships that I have made, the friends that I have, everything about it is perfect.
“Just because I am older doesn’t mean that I have to stop skiing and as long as I am skiing fast that’s all that matters.”
With the World Cup season just underway Vonn is clearly not yet up to speed.
The four-time overall World Cup champion finished 34th in the opening leg of a giant slalom — not her best event — last Saturday on the Rettenbach glacier above Soelden, Austria, failing to qualify for a second run.
Despite the sluggish start there is no panic in the Vonn camp as they look ahead to the season’s first speed races in Lake Louise, Canada, where she has recorded 18 victories, and to Pyeongchang which will stage races on a hill very much to her liking.
“I really like the course, the Olympic super-G and downhill are great tracks,” said Vonn, who recorded second-place results in a World Cup downhill and super-G held on the South Korean Olympic course last March.
“When we raced there… it was perfect,” Vonn said. “Racing last weekend, I hadn’t raced that discipline in almost two years, I was a little bit rusty and skied well within myself.
“I don’t worry about it. I know I’m a lot faster than my results and it’s not my main discipline so no big deal.”
TWO OLYMPIC MEDALS
Winning another gold medal, however, would be a huge deal for Vonn who despite all her success on mountains around the world has picked up only two Winter Games medals — gold in the Vancouver downhill and a bronze in the super-G.
At the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics she failed to win a medal and she missed out on the 2014 Sochi Games following knee surgery.
“Vancouver was amazing and winning there was the best feeling I have ever had in my entire career so if I could get that again I would be extremely grateful and all the hard work I have done over the last eight years will have paid off,” said Vonn. “I just have to ski my best.
“If I can get to the Olympics healthy and I ski the way I can I’m not really worried about it.
“At the end of the day all I can do is my best… if some of these young girls beat me so be it but I still think I am the best downhill skier out there and I intend to prove that.”
Vonn is also out to prove she can compete with the men and replace Stenmark, who raced in the 1970s and 1980s, as Alpine skiing’s greatest winner.
“It’s amazing — Ingemar has had this record of World Cup wins that seemed absolutely unattainable and to be even remotely in the ball park is such a huge feat,” said Vonn. “I’m honored to be in the same sentence as him but hopefully I can break his record.
“That’s my goal but to have the most World Cup wins of any female is still a big accomplishment.”
Vonn has long yearned to test herself against the best men in the sport but International Ski Federation (FIS) officials have been less enthusiastic.
U.S. Ski and Snowboard backs Vonn effort and has submitted a proposal as a one-time exception which the FIS will vote on at their council meeting in May.
“I’ve been training with the men since 2011 and I think it pushes me to another level,” explained Vonn. “As much as I don’t want to admit it, men are much stronger than we are and much faster at ski racing so they truly are the pinnacle of my sport.
“I’ve accomplished a lot in women’s ski racing but that’s the next challenge.
“I know I’m not going to win, or at least I don’t think so, but I want the opportunity to try.”
(Editing by Clare Fallon)