- Alpine Skiing
Lindsey Vonn knows return from injury no easy Street
Growing up, Lindsey Vonn wasn’t all that dissimilar from aspiring young athletes, dreaming big and looking up to professional athletes living the dream.
For Vonn, that hero was Picabo Street.
In 1995, Vonn was already a talented skier but was still physically awkward as she grew into her gangly frame. She had the dream opportunity to meet Street at Pierce Skate & Ski outside Minneapolis, Minnesota. At the time, Street had already won an Olympic silver medal at the Lillehammer Games a year earlier and was fresh off winning her first World Cup downhill title.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Growing up Lindsey Vonn
Vonn waited in line for hours, got a close-up look at the silver medal and World Cup crystal globe, but was too nervous to talk as her parents introduced their daughter.
Street offered this advice: “Don't hunch over. Stand tall. Be proud.”
Vonn’s mother, Linda, framed a photo of her daughter and Street and hung it in Vonn’s bedroom. The encounter, and the picture, set Vonn off on a more determined path.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Through the years: Lindsey Vonn
“Meeting her, it was pretty much all over for me. I wanted to be just like her,” Vonn recalled in a 2008 USA Today interview. “At the time, I was kind of just skiing for fun. But that triggered a different frame of mind for me where I really wanted to be an Olympian.”
A tighter-focused Vonn ascended the ranks, and eventually achieved her goal of competing at the Olympics in 2002. In Salt Lake City, she was the youngest member of the U.S. Alpine team.
The oldest was Street, who went from mentor to teammate.
Vonn would finish sixth in the combined and 32nd in slalom in her first Olympics. Street would finish 16th in the downhill in her final Games. While it was the only time that the careers of the two women overlapped, they have remained intertwined.
At the 2006 Torino Olympics, Vonn crashed violently during a downhill training run and was airlifted off the slope in Sestriere. She suffered no broken bones, but her whole body ached something fierce, especially her back. Street, then working as a commentator for NBC, visited Vonn in the hospital.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Lindsey Vonn: I've got Games
“We were both sobbing,” Vonn, who in 2008 broke Street’s record for most World Cup downhill victories by an American, said. “Peek was like, 'Don't worry, we'll get through it.'” A few moments later, having gained a better idea of Vonn’s physical status, Street blurted out, “A real champion would get up and race!”
It might not have sat well had it been someone other than Street, whose own career was marked by triumphant comebacks from injury, ordered Vonn out of bed and to not feel sorry for herself.
But Street set Vonn straight, and two days later she got up and raced. Despite being in visible pain, she finished eighth in the downhill, and later came in seventh in super-G and 14th in slalom.
Embedded owg_slideshow: All-Access with Lindsey Vonn
Eight years later, Vonn found herself in a similar position as her mentor was over a decade ago, trying to recover from a devastating knee injury to make it back to the Games.
On Feb. 5, 2013 Vonn tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in her right knee and broke her tibia in a crash at the World Championships super-G in Schladming, Austria. She re-injured the knee and was forced to withdraw from the Sochi Olympics.
In 1996, Street was able to win super-G gold at the Nagano Olympics 14 months after tearing three ligaments in her left knee while training in Vail.
Embedded video_content_type: Lindsey Vonn: No stranger to injury
Throughout her attempt to make it to Sochi and as she looks ahead to the 2015 World Championships in her hometown of Vail, Street remains the perfect role model for Vonn.
“Picabo is definitely a great example of that," Vonn said on a conference call last February. “I have no doubt I will be back and be able to ski the same if not better than I did before.”
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