Olympic legend Lindsey Vonn explains the mindset of a winner

“Winning the Olympics is something very special,” Vonn says, calling it the “stamp of validation” that she’d been missing. “I’d won everything – I’d won world championships, all the titles.

 

Winning gold in North America] really set the tone of my awareness in the United States.” As the first American woman to win the Olympic gold in downhill skiing, she returned home a champion and a bona fide celebrity, entering California’s LAX airport to thunderous applause.

 

“I was like, ‘Is Magic [Johnson] here?’,” she laughs. “Everyone in the terminal was staring at me and applauding for me. It was this [media] explosion that I didn’t expect because I had won something like 45 World Cups before the Olympics – but no one cared until I won in Vancouver.” By the time she retired in 2019, she was the most decorated female skier.

American ski racer Lindsey Vonn opens up on her tenacity and willpower as a child.

 

Vonn says it’s the adrenaline, not adulation, that kept her engaged in sport and it’s the piece she misses most in her post-slopes life. “Adrenaline is kind of like oxygen for me,” she explains. “I need it. The hardest thing in this next chapter of life without ski racing is I’ve had to try to figure out a way to find that excitement and adventure without racing downhill.” Vonn published a memoir in 2022, Rise, about her relentless pursuit of excellence and it, as well as this conversation with Kay, reveals an athlete fueled by her own drive to compete. “Adrenaline is something I feed off of; I need it. I love it. It’s what gets me going. I need a challenge, something to push me,” she says. “Life without ski racing is pretty boring, to be honest.

Inside the mind of a winner: ‘Pressure is a privilege’

 

Vonn explains that skiing was a mental game for her, and there was a specific mindset that she knew would guarantee a win. “My ideal frame of mind is the same state I was in when I won the Olympics; I think that was probably the best state of mind I’ve ever been in [during] my career,” she says. “I wanted to be aggressive yet calm. Ready and hyper-aware, but also relaxed. It’s such a contradiction. You want to be all these things at the same time!” And, crucially, you want to be all these things every time, she says. “Routine is something that’s really important for athletes because you want to try to get in the same state of mind,” adding, “It’s very hard to repeat.”

 

Kay wonders if, through her own mental perseverance, Vonn made winning in the face of extreme pressure look effortless – despite her brutal physical injuries and the mental health struggles she’s discussed over the years. Vonn admits the road to being in better health post-injury was long and “10 times harder” than the preparation for her major ski wins. She has had a partial knee replacement, but Vonn has no regrets about her time on the slopes and seems to happily accept the aches and pains she still endures, while acknowledging that emotional stress weighs more heavily on athletes like her than the physical adversities might.

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