PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) – Known for her hard-charging style on skis, Lindsey Vonn is not taking any chances off the slopes.
The black gloves she wore to a pre-Olympics news conference Friday made that clear.
After waiting eight years – “a very long time,” she called it – to return to a Winter Games for the fourth – and, she left no doubt, final – time, Vonn is making sure to cover her hands to try to avoid picking up any germs.
Even donned the gloves for her flight to South Korea.
“I just don’t want to get sick,” she said. “Just being safe.”
The U.S. Alpine skiing star is not accustomed to erring on the side of caution while racing, which is why she owns a pair of Olympic medals and four overall World Cup titles. She has won her past three races, raising her World Cup total to 81 victories, a record for a woman and the second-most in history, five behind Ingemar Stenmark.
That speed is also why she is all-too-familiar with dealing with health issues, including the torn-up right knee that forced her to miss the 2014 Sochi Games.
She estimates that she spent the equivalent of about three years on rehabilitation from various injuries; while Vonn reiterated Friday she plans to ski another season to eclipse Stenmark, when she mentioned the word “retirement,” it was in the context of how long her knees will hold up.
So Vonn is thrilled to be back on her sport’s most visible stage.
She plans to compete in the downhill, the super-G and the combined, but said Friday that she has opted to skip the giant slalom “because my knee is just not really in a place to do that.”
“I would love to,” she continued, “but unfortunately, I just don’t think I can contend for a medal, so there’s really no point.”
Yes, there’s a little insight into how Vonn thinks.
If a bit of hardware is not realistically in the offing, then why bother getting into the starting hut?
That is the sort of burden of expectations she places on herself.
There already are plenty of expectations from others heading into her first race, the super-G, on Feb. 17. Next comes the downhill on Feb. 21, then the combined two days after that.
At Vancouver in 2010, Vonn won the gold medal in the downhill, along with the bronze in the super-G.
This time, at age 33, she could become the oldest woman to win an Olympic Alpine medal.
“It’s harder in some ways, definitely, that it’s my last Olympics, because I want to end on a high note. I really want to put an exclamation point on my career,” said Vonn, who brought her dog Lucy to the session with reporters. “It took me until my third Olympics to really figure out how to deal with the pressure. Most of the time … I put more pressure on myself than anyone put on me.”
Vonn smiled and kidded around for much of the half-hour Q-and-A, but her mood changed when she was asked about her grandfather, Don Kildow, who died in November.
She closed her eyes and paused, then spoke haltingly as she began crying.
“I miss him so much. He’s been such a big part of my life. And I really had hoped that he would be alive to see me (at these Olympics). But I know he’s watching, and I know that he’s going to help me and I’m going to win for him,” Vonn said.
Then, moments later, she spoke about skiing in his memory.
“I’m just going to lay it all out there. I’m going to give it everything I have, and whatever happens will happen. I’m not going to be nervous. I know he’s looking out for me,” she said, “and that actually gives me a lot of peace of mind.”