Retiring as the greatest female ski racer of all time, Lindsey Vonn made a living out of her downhill speed, but away from the slopes, she was fighting uphill battles.
Vonn finally called time on a glittering career in 2019 after 18 years on the World Cup circuit, three Winter Olympic medals, eight world championship medals and a record 82 race wins – just four wins short of Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time record.
It is a testament to her resilience that she amassed such a haul of accolades in spite of countless injuries that left her body “broken beyond repair” and forced her to miss out on Olympics, world championships and world records, but Vonn has been candid about battles with depression she faced both during her career and since retirement.
With 100 days to go until the 2022 Winter Olympics get underway in Beijing, Vonn discussed her mental health experience while competing at major events.
“Being on the road … in most sports, is pretty much one of the most difficult things you can do,” Vonn told CNN Sport’s Coy Wire.
“You go from being surrounded by people on the podium and doing media, then you go back to the hotel room – empty and lonely.
“Mental health plays a really big role in your success – being able to overcome those emotions and the depression and be able to still get back the next day and be at the top of your game.
“I didn’t really talk about my mental health stuff until much later in my career, and at that time, no one was really talking about it besides maybe Michael Phelps or Kevin Love, so now I’m really happy that everyone’s really talking about mental health.
“The more empathy we can have for each other in those moments, the better.”
Speaking to CNN in February, Vonn admitted she was “still struggling a bit” with the transition to post-competition life, but now, she is happier than ever.
“It was hard,” she admitted. “I love working hard – physically, mentally – and most of those things all went away when I retired.
“That was definitely a transition to be able to figure out ‘OK, what am I doing now? Who am I?’ and so it just took me a bit, I’d say probably a year, to really feel like I had my feet on the ground and I was in a happy, stable place.”
Part of Vonn’s post-retirement life is now dedicated to business, including a collaboration with HEAD Sportswear on a clothing line.
“Now, I feel amazing, incredibly happy. I’m working really hard, spending more time at home with my dogs and my friends and family – it’s been very rewarding on many levels.”
From slopes to sideline
Vonn won a gold and two bronzes across four Winter Olympics between 2002 and 2018, agonizingly missing out on Sochi in 2014 due to a knee injury – a recurring injury that plagued her throughout her career.
Her crowning moment came at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, as Vonn pipped compatriot Julia Mancuso to become the first American woman to win Olympic gold in the downhill event.
Having enjoyed the freedom of fandom during the Summer Games in Tokyo, Vonn weighed up the strange experience of watching from the sidelines for the first Winter Olympics since retirement.
“Watching the Summer Games was really fun,” Vonn said.
“Obviously, I don’t compete in the summer, so it was nice to just be able to be inspired as a spectator again.
“But the Winter Games are definitely a new challenge – to be on the sidelines – but I’m excited to watch my teammates and all the Team USA athletes … hopefully bring home many medals.”