BOWLES’ BLOG: VONN VS STENMARK … THE RACE IS BACK ON!

Originally appeared on snowsportsculture.com on Jan. 11, 2017

GUILTY AS CHARGED. Yes, me. Likely you too.

I just can’t keep my eyes off Lindsey Vonn. Before you jump to gutter-brain conclusions, or send an “objectifying women” letter to the editor, let me explain. 

For the past dozen or so years, this young woman (she’s 32) from Vail, has strung together what will become the greatest ski racing career of all time. “All time” is such over-used term, but in this case, is appropriate.

Think Ingmar Stenmark … man, who of us older than 40 didn’t think, analyze and dream about the Swede growing up? When “Ingy” retired in 1989 his World Cup victories totalled 86 over a 15-year career, widely regarded as an untouchable feat that would never again be tested. Put that record on the shelf; it will never again come down. It was a Gretzky’esque achievement that would stand the test of time.

But here were are, less than 30 years later, witnessing an American star make her latest comeback – this time from a broken arm and nerve damage – with the usual conviction of an obsessed superstar. Ready to tackle “the record”.

On her Facebook page, the four-time overall World Cup champion revealed in a 5-minute-plus video which chronicles her “hardest recovery of my career” and simultaneously announced plans to be back in competition this weekend Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria, for her first WC race since fracturing her left knee in a super-G crash in Andorra, last February. That is a mouthful, and yes that’s two major injuries during that time.

“Today I am still struggling to do simple things like put on my ski glove and do my hair, but I’m at a point where I am comfortable with my hand in most situations,” she said on Facebook only a few weeks ago.

Yes, I guess I was stalking her on Facebook. Guilty, again.

After 300 hours of therapy – she learned to straighten her fingers again and some basic functionality of life – and now she, and her  76 WC victories, are ready to rock.

The two skiers met for the first time, ironically, only 11 months ago in Stockholm, Sweden, in a WC finish area. Vonn appeared starstruck, taking a selfie with Stenmark, then posing the question: “How’d you do it? How’d you get so many wins?” she asked after a hug and pleasantries. “You know that, you don’t have to ask me,” Stenmark responded, separated from Vonn by microphones. “I don’t have to chase records anymore.”

“When you beat my record, I will come,” said the cordial and polite (aren’t they all?) Swede.

These two ski racers are vastly different people from vastly different eras. All of Stenmark’s wins were in slalom and giant slalom (super-G was added to the WC roster towards the end of his career) and Vonn’s best events are downhill and super-G. *side note: Ingemar raced downhill only once, of course at the most famed Hahnenkahm in Kitzbuhel, Austria. 

Going into this 2016-17 season, likely the betting odds were that Vonn was on pace to reach the ultimate pinnacle before the next Olympics in Pyeonchang in 2018. It wasn’t a given, but highly probable.

But the latest setback thickens this plot. Will she reach the mark? 

Screen-Shot-2017-01-11-at-9.27.39-PM-718x1024.png