Lindsey Vonn in 2017: Fear is not part of the equation

Now that the winningest female ski racer in the world has retired, 60 Minutes looks back on her conversation with Sharyn Alfonsi

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Editor's note: Lindsey Vonn on Sunday announced that she is retiring from skiing. Her career ended with bronze in the downhill at the world championships in Are, Sweden, making her the first female skier to win medals at six different world championships. Below is a transcript of Sharyn Alfonsi's January 2017 profile on Vonn for 60 Minutes Sports.


You probably know Lindsey Vonn as a skier or a swimsuit model or the woman who used to date Tiger Woods. But what most people don't realize is that Lindsey Vonn isn't just a skier, she's on the verge of becoming the greatest skier of all time. Vonn is chasing a nearly three-decade-old record that no skier in the world, man or woman, has come close to breaking. The only thing standing in her way is gravity. If Lindsey Vonn wants to make history, she has to stay vertical and given her recent history, that's become a pretty big if.

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Vonn in 2017

Lindsay Winninger: Two more. You got it. One more.

This is the penance. The painful price an athlete must pay for demanding too much of her body.

Lindsay Winninger: Good?

Lindsey Vonn: I don't need help. Don't--

Lindsay Winninger: I'm not going to-- I'm not going to.

Lindsey Vonn: Get your hand off me. Don't touch me.

Lindsay Winninger: I'm not going to. Good.

There is no video of exactly what happened on Copper Mountain during a training run two months ago. But the X-rays of Lindsey Vonn's right arm look like something from a dinosaur exhibit, a complete fracture of the humerus bone, the worst injury of her spectacular career.

Sharyn Alfonsi: What the hell happened?

Lindsey Vonn: Yeah. I mean, unfortunately, I was just training. It was like any other normal day. And I caught my edge funny, my ski came off, I did the splits and kind of got my arm caught behind me. And I broke it.

Sharyn Alfonsi: How bad was the pain?

Lindsey Vonn: It was definitely, I would say, the most excruciating pain I've ever been in.

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Vonn with correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi in 2017

Her trainer, Lindsay Winninger, didn't see the crash but she sure heard what followed.

Lindsay Winninger: I was standing at the top and we have radios out there for-- for safety and when I got the call on the radio to come down, you could hear her screaming in the background on one of the coach's radios. So I knew that it was bad.

Lindsay Winninger: Check out.

Lindsey Vonn: What do you think I am? Think that was my first time?

Lindsay Winninger: What number is that? I would have said, that was 30 already.

Lindsey Vonn: This is not my first rodeo.

Lindsay Winninger: No, it's definitely not.

Indeed, it is not. If one didn't know better, it might seem as if crashing is what Vonn does best.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Can you give me Lindsey Vonn's greatest hits of injuries?

Lindsey Vonn: The greatest hits is really just my right knee, two ACLs, MCL, meniscus, broken my risk, my thumb, my pinky, just a couple of random broken bones. But, mostly, it's-- oh, my ankle. I forget there's just a lot.

Skiing Vonn Retirement Photo Gallery
Lindsey Vonn competing in the women's World Cup downhill in St. Moritz, Switzerland on Jan. 24, 2015 Marco Trovati / AP

That all-or-nothing style has made Lindsey Vonn the winningest female skier in history. She's on the verge of becoming the greatest skier, male or female, of all time. With 76 World Cup victories, she's just ten short of the record held by Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark, a slalom and giant slalom skier who raced in the 1970s and '80s. Vonn has won in all five racing disciplines, and now focuses exclusively on the downhill and super-G, the highest speed events.

Lindsey Vonn: Fear is just not part of the equation for me. I never think about it. It's not something that enters my mind. My-- I mean, I-- of course, I weigh the risk of doing certain things but I don't fear what I'm doing, I'm just trying to be calculated in how I try to win.

In alpine skiing World Cup victories are considered more valuable than even Olympic gold. But when Vonn won the downhill gold in Vancouver in 2010, she became the first American female skier to win that event.

Lindsey Vonn: I remember being in the start. I remember being in the finish. But I really don't remember the run itself. I was just-- I don't know, I put everything I had into that run. And when I watch the video, I was on the limit, you know, my line was-- if I had been just a little bit here or there, I would have gone out of the course or would have lost my speed. I mean it was-- it was the most aggressive I have skied in an Olympics, especially but probably ever.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Do you remember the moment you realized that you had won when you looked up?

Lindsey Vonn: Yeah, when I crossed the finish line. And I saw my time and I just collapsed and screamed.

Skiing Vonn Retirement Photo Gallery
Lindsey Vonn celebrates her 63rd World Cup win with her team after winning a super-G in Italy on Jan. 19, 2015 Giovanni Auletta / AP

Born Lindsey Caroline Kildow in Burnsville, Minnesota, 32  years ago she was taught to ski by her father and displayed no early talent.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Did you win right away?

Lindsey Vonn: Oh, no, I was really bad.

Sharyn Alfonsi: You were bad?

Lindsey Vonn: I was really bad. My coach used to call me a turtle. Yeah.

Sharyn Alfonsi: A turtle?

Lindsey Vonn: Yeah. And everyone made fun of my dad, because you know, he was so excited that I wanted to ski race and-- and then here he was producing this turtle of a skier.

Sharyn Alfonsi: I heard you were like nine years old and you went to Austria, is that right, to like professionally train, so something happened between seven and nine where you went from turtle to savant.

Lindsey Vonn: Yeah. I mean I just saw how the Europeans were training and how dedicated and driven they were. And then I met Picabo Street when I was, that same year, when I was nine. And she really was the reason that I wanted to become an Olympian, you know, seeing her and seeing how charismatic and amazing she was. It was like that's what I want to be.

When Vonn made the U.S. team for the first time at the age of 16 she was a nobody who wanted very much to be a somebody.

Lindsey Vonn: I want to be most dedicated and hardworking and decorated skier of all time.

But she says her teammates and coaches saw nothing special about her or her skiing.

Lindsey Vonn: I heard them talking about me sometimes, you know, in the halls of the hotel rooms and--

Sharyn Alfonsi: Saying what?

Lindsey Vonn: Saying that they don't think I'm going to be anything. And it's a-- it's pretty harsh when you're, you know, sixteen, seventeen years old and that's the only dream you've ever had and you're hearing people that are supposed to support you and help you and guide you, say that they don't believe in you.

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Sharyn Alfonsi: Did it get you down or did it fuel you?

Lindsey Vonn: Oh, it fueled me. I'm the kind of person that if you tell me I can't do something, I will do everything I can to prove you wrong.

She did in 2013 after she blew out her knee. And now she has combined fanatical conditioning with a super-aggressive style to not only become the unquestioned star of the team, but one of the most recognizable athletes in the world.

Just google Lindsey Vonn and what you'll see is red carpet turns, a lot of skin, and much ado about her relationship with Tiger Woods.

Hardly anything about her four World Cup overall titles, a fact she acknowledges with a mixture of pride and regret.

Lindsey Vonn: I mean, I did the swimsuit issue this last time because I felt like I was with a group of girls that was strong and successful and powerful and I felt like it sends a really good message. But I would prefer that people know me for-- as being a skier as being, you know, a very successful skier and sometimes I feel like that line gets blurred and I am known for what I do outside of skiing.

Sharyn Alfonsi: You admitted to suffering depression at one point. Can you tell me about that? What was going on?

Lindsey Vonn: Oh, I still-- I mean, I-- I still take meds and I am-- sometimes it's really hard and, you know, I don't want to get out of bed.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Why?

Lindsey Vonn: I-- I don't know. I just-- like I said, I lack-- I lack self-confidence. And I-- skiing is what makes me happy. And when I don't ski, I have a hard time just being happy. The thing is, like everyone thinks that, you know, being a successful athlete is really great and everyone knows who you are, and you have all these medals and trophies and magazines and whatnot, but you come home at the end of the day and you're still alone.

Sharyn Alfonsi: You're lonely?

Lindsey Vonn: I am lonely. I'm really lonely. So when I don't have skiing, it's-- it's-- it's hard.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Explain to me how you don't feel confident, because you're articulate, you're successful, you can rock a bikini like nobody's business. It looks like you've got the world figured out.

Lindsey Vonn: Well, I'm glad you think that.

Sharyn Alfonsi: I mean you look like the picture of confidence to me. Is that?

Lindsey Vonn: That's-- it's like what I want to be.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Mm-Mm.

Lindsey Vonn: It's not necessarily what I am. I mean, I am successful. I feel like I'm somewhat smart. I'm good at ski racing. I'm in great shape. But I'm just-- I don't know-- I have a strong feeling of just not being good enough.

Sharyn Alfonsi: At?

Lindsey Vonn: Everything.

She's put out a book equating strength with beauty, part memoir, part training tips. And she's now dating Kenan Smith, an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Rams, her first public romance since dating Tiger Woods.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Did you hear from him after the accident?

Lindsey Vonn: No, I didn't. But I think, you know, he's probably just focused on coming back, you know, came back a couple of weeks ago. So I'm sure he was just focused on that.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Surprised you didn't hear from him?

Lindsey Vonn: A little bit.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Yeah. And you're going to leave it at that.

Lindsey Vonn: Yep.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Okay.

At 32 the clock is ticking. She believes she can return to the World Cup circuit later this month, praying to heaven that hell freezes over. Just weeks after the broken arm, she posted a video online, doing some foolish pull-ups, which got the attention of her trainer.

Lindsey Vonn: Yeah, I got in big trouble for that.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Yeah.

Lindsey Vonn: Oops.

Sharyn Alfonsi: And that seemed like a good idea?

Lindsey Vonn: Yeah.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Yeah.

Lindsay Winninger: I think I fired off a few texts at first and then a few phone calls and, you know, definitely I was like, what are you doing? She's like, it feels good. It feels good. I'm like, it doesn't matter, like, you're three weeks out from the surgery. The plate could shift, the screws could shift, the bone fragments could shift, like, what are you doing?

Her priorities right now are competing in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea and racing and beating a top flight male skier.

Lindsey Vonn: There's a lot of men that don't want to see that happen. I mean I beat half of them when I train with them.

Sharyn Alfonsi: They don't want to be embarrassed?

Lindsey Vonn: They don't want to be embarrassed. And I'm not going to beat all of them, I can assure you that. But I at least want a chance to see what my skiing is capable of against the best.

And above all, winning eleven more World Cup races to break Ingemar Stenmark's Ruthian Record. The record that would make her the greatest alpine skier of all time.

Lindsey Vonn: It's very important. I mean I-- you know, I can try to trick myself and, you know, pretend like it doesn't mean everything to me, but it really does. And if I can break it, then I think that solidifies me, you know, in skiing and in the history of skiing. And that's something that I want. I want people to remember my accomplishments, not, you know, that I was hurt all the time, but that I won all the time.