HARRISON, N.J. — Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Lindsey Vonn were both in the New York City area on Thursday. The longtime friendly rivals had only exchanged emails and texts since Vonn’s last race in December.
Hoefl-Riesch was in town as part of German champion soccer club Bayern Munich’s U.S. tour. Vonn spoke at an Under Armour launch for women’s apparel.
“Hopefully tonight we can have a drink at the hotel bar,” Hoefl-Riesch said from a suite at the New York Red Bulls’ stadium, where Bayern played a Mexican club.
There would be plenty to catch up on. Hoefl-Riesch and Vonn, born six weeks apart in 1984, were the world’s two best Alpine skiers from 2008 through 2012, before major injury struck Vonn.
But it’s Hoefl-Riesch who never plans to ski again. She retired after crashing at the World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in March, one month after winning Olympic gold and silver in Sochi.
She left the sport near the top of her game. She entered that final race in the Alps leading the World Cup overall standings, seeking her first title since she nipped Vonn by three points in 2011.
Then she fell (video here), landed into netting, screamed and was helicoptered off with shoulder injuries in Lenzerheide. Hoefl-Riesch missed the final three races of the season, and Austrian Anna Fenninger passed her for the overall crystal globe.
“[Retiring] had nothing to do with that [crash],” Hoefl-Riesch said, citing a lack of motivation to continue tiring training beginning before seasons in the summers. “Of course, that was not a very nice ending for me because if you do your last race, you actually want to know it before. But on the outside maybe it was better like this, because when you’re in the start gate at your very last race and know it’s your very last time, then you might be more emotional.”
She decided in the first few days after the crash to hang up her ski boots for good. Now, seeing other skiers’ tweets about going to South America to train in the southern hemisphere’s winter only reinforces her decision.
“In winter maybe I will miss something because it was my passion,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “My whole life was about skiing.”
Soccer has been a big part of her life the last few months, being a German married to the manager of World Cup legend Franz Beckenbauer.
She originally planned to attend the World Cup in Brazil, but watched the final while in Italy instead (Beckenbauer was suspended by FIFA near the start of the tournament and, even after it was lifted during the World Cup, didn’t fly to Brazil).
The reception in Germany for the victory dwarfed any celebration for an Olympic gold medalist.
“It’s not comparable to anything,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “It was always that way that skiing had less attention, but I’m not jealous. That’s the way it is. Soccer has so much money and sponsors. It’s great for the economy in Germany.”
Hoefl-Riesch will still stay connected to Alpine skiing. Her younger sister, Susanne Riesch, is still active on the World Cup circuit, and she plans to work for German TV at the 2015 World Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek, Colo., near Vonn’s home.