Considered the world's fastest female on Alpine skis after consecutive overall World Cup titles, Lindsey Vonn acknowledges the enormous pressure to win. However, regardless of results on the slopes, she understands that she represents many places, people and a spirit only found at the Olympics.
Many athletes have talked about how the sense of competition and camaraderie is different at an Olympics. Do you feel that way too?
I think, with the Olympics, everyone takes a lot of pride in representing their country. I feel like everyone feels more unified. You know, we're all there. We have the Olympic spirit. We have the Olympic dream. It means much more than just one single race. You stay at the Olympic Village and you can just talk with any athlete from any country and any sport, and you all have this common bond. I've never felt anything like that at the World Championships, at World Cup races, anywhere.
What do you think Olympic spirit embodies?
It embodies hope, love, passion, sport and honesty. You know, it's that one pure thing that nothing can affect, not war, not crime, not Depression, nothing. It's that one specific thing that everyone can hope and dream for. When you watch the Olympics or when you're at the Olympics, it's very special. You always feel emotional and you feel good. You feel good about yourself.
Do you enjoy being a role model for young skiers?
Well, I know when I was a little girl, I met [U.S. Olympic champion in Alpine skiing] Picabo Street. I remember being that little kid and just looking up to her and being inspired to become an Olympian. Hopefully, I can be that good role model and that good image for young children.
What's it like when you go back to the Midwest and the hill where you started out?
It's really humbling to go back to Minnesota and have so many people recognize me and my accomplishments. I've spoken to a lot of kids at Buck Hill Ski Club, my hometown club. I'm very honored to be able to give them some advice and try to motivate them, and help them along the way. I know there are a lot of kids there who want to become ski racers.
What was that like returning and finding little girls and boys waiting in line to get your photo signed?
It was very surreal. To have little boys and girls wanting my autograph and just looking up at me with big, bright eyes, it was so cute. And it meant so much to me, you know, because I know that feeling. I know what it's like. If I can just give them one bit of inspiration, if I can just push them a little bit and help them to get confidence or have a dream, that's all I'm hoping for.
Describe the importance of Vail in your development.
Vail's a very important place for me. Everyone kind of took me in and accepted me in that town, and they still have to this day. I wouldn't be a downhill skier if I hadn't been there. It's tough to go from a small hill to a big mountain, and I kind of felt lost at first, but the people there really made me feel at home. I was able to harness my skills and go in a direction that has taken me really far.
When you moved to Vail, did the community recognize your talent?
When I first moved to Vail, it was like I was a little celebrity. You know, everyone knew my accomplishments. I was a young, fast teenager, and making waves in the ski world. And it was really cool.
The mountains have become such an integral part of who you are. When did you make Utah your home?
The U.S. Ski Team wanted me to do some conditioning training with some of the older girls, so I came out there for a couple weeks and I really liked it. Then I met my husband [Thomas]. We were both out [in Park City], so we just were like: ‘Okay, let's live here!' It worked out great. I love the mountains there, it's beautiful, the ski team's there and I have lots of friends there.
More skiing-related, what do you feel when you're skiing downhill?
When I'm having a good run, I feel a rush. It's like adrenaline is pumping through me and I can't do anything wrong. I love it.
Is there ever any apprehension?
I've never been afraid. I've always loved speed. I'm nervous in the start. There are butterflies, but it's never fear. I always want to go fast.
Can you compare the sensation of skiing the downhill with riding a rollercoaster?
Yeah, kind of. It's kind of like a rollercoaster when you're just free-falling, you know, you're going that fast. You have that sensation of flying, but you're in total control. You feel powerful.
Compiled by NBC Olympics
As the pilot for the USA-1 bobsled, I broke a 62-year gold medal drought when my sled, the 'Night Train" won the Olympic title at the 2010 Vancouver Games. A degenerative eye condition nearly caused me to quit my sport in 2008, but corrective surgery restored my vision to 20-20.