ASPEN, Colo. (The New York Times) — Sitting in her Aspen hotel room Tuesday night, Lindsey Vonn assessed the last four injury-filled years
, during which she has torn three knee ligaments, sustained three leg fractures and severely broken her right arm.
Vonn’s return late this season has recently been productive, but she is 15th in the season-long chase for the World Cup overall title, a championship she won four times from 2008 to 2012. The reason is as old as time: A younger, unscarred generation is competing to overtake her.
Vonn, however, is rising up in defiance, vowing to race through 2019.
“I feel the new wave coming,” said Vonn, who finished second in the downhill here Wednesday at the World Cup finals.
She added: “But I’m not ready to get off the wave yet. I’m going to keep riding it out.”
Winning another medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics — she won gold and bronze medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games but sat out the 2014 Games in Sochi with an injury — has always been Vonn’s chief goal, but she recently opted to add a year to her career.
“I decided to go until 2019 at the world championships last month,” Vonn said, explaining that she was disappointed by her results there: She did not finish the super-G, was fifth in the Alpine combined and finished third in the downhill.
“I don’t want to go out mediocre; I want to go on top,” said Vonn, whose 77 World Cup victories are the most by any woman. “I wasn’t in position to do my best, and that is not how I operate.”
“I didn’t think it would be that hard to race without much training, because I’ve been skiing for a long time,” said Vonn, who smiled and added, “But it turns out it’s harder than that.”
“I didn’t have the same speed and consistency,” she said. “And I couldn’t prepare my equipment like I usually do.”
For the last several years, Vonn has been told to temper her aggressiveness and intensity during training to avoid injuries, which have mounted as she ages. But following such advice can be a double-edged sword for Vonn, because her success has been built on fearlessly taking the most daring paths on a racecourse. She often trains with men, who typically choose the riskiest tactics, and she is among the few women who race on skis designed for men.
Vonn did make a concession last summer in skipping one of the United States Ski Team’s training camps, to minimize the chance of injury. Still, just a few months later, she took a nasty tumble during a routine preseason run at Copper Mountain in Colorado and broke her arm.
“I don’t know what I could have done differently at Copper,” she said Tuesday. “It was just an unlucky thing.”
But the spill shook her deeply, leaving her with nerve damage that has taken the feeling from her right hand.
“The arm injury scared me more than any other injury I’ve had,” Vonn said. “I was told there was a large chance I would have permanent damage. With my knee or leg surgeries, they repaired it, I rehabbed it, and I came back. I just worked extra hard at it.
“But this was not mind over matter. No matter how hard I was telling my hand to work, it’s not working.”
Vonn said she did not wonder if it was worth it, or prudent, to resume racing, although she said her father expressed his concerns.
“Most of my family understands how much I love what I do,” she said. “They know I’m not going to listen to them tell me to retire.”
She probably gave family members another scare Wednesday when she fell after the finish line and skidded partway under the wall of plastic banners that separates racers from the officials, news media personnel and fans. Vonn was extricated and gingerly walked away. She was not injured.
“I was so tired; I was dead,” she said with a giggle later. “I should get some style points for that, because I was under there wrapped up tight like a burrito.”
Vonn, who debuted on the World Cup when she was 16, has been eager lately to display her humorous side. Perhaps it comes with being one of the circuit’s elders.
In her hotel Tuesday, for example, she referred to the generational gap she sees when she surveys the field at the start of races and laughed.
“Some of the girls were born in 2000,” she said. “That’s when I started on the World Cup.”
As Vonn spoke, it was 16 hours before the downhill race, which ended with her 130th World Cup podium finish.
“The competition is getting crazy young,” she said. “But I’m not retiring yet.”