Only one skier has more World Cup wins than Lindsey Vonn, and Vonn met him for the first time on Tuesday night.
Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark stood, surrounded by media, at the finish area of a World Cup parallel slalom race in Stockholm.
Stenmark won 86 World Cup races from 1974-89. Vonn is at 76 wins, with nine already this season, on pace to break Stenmark’s record before the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics.
“How’d you do it? How’d you get so many wins?” were Vonn’s first questions to Stenmark 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.”
Vonn and Stenmark are vastly different skiers from vastly different eras. All of Stenmark’s wins were in slalom and giant slalom, and he spent much of his career before separate super-G races were added to the World Cup. He told Vonn he once raced a downhill, at the most famous, dangerous course in Kitzbuehel, Austria.
Vonn, starstruck, then took a selfie with Stenmark.
Vonn’s best events are downhill and super-G. Her start Tuesday, eliminated in the first round of 16 in a head-to-head, bracketed format, marked her first in a slalom in more than three years. She doesn’t plan to again, partly because it hurts her surgically repaired right knee.
“When you beat my record, I will come,” said Stenmark, who does have knee surgery in common with Vonn. “When you are very close.”
“I don’t know if I can do it, but I’m going to try,” Vonn said.
Earlier, Vonn sounded more confident.
“I have probably, hopefully two more seasons left, and I won nine [races] this season,” Vonn, who has a great chance to reach double-digit wins this campaign with four speed races left, said Tuesday, before the race. “I have 10 more [wins] to tie Stenmark. I think, if you’re looking at it mathematically, it looks pretty good, but anything can happen.”
Vonn is correct. In her comeback from two major knee surgeries, she’s been near her pre-injuries average wins per season — scoring eight last year and nine this year.
If the 31-year-old continues two more seasons, she will not only be on pace to break Stenmark’s record but also look to become the oldest Olympic women’s Alpine skiing medalist of all time.
Vonn, who didn’t fully commit to racing the slalom until Tuesday, didn’t enter to win so much as to accumulate World Cup points.
“Just for participating you get 15 points,” Vonn said. “I think that was what drew me to come up here.”
The 15 points could be crucial for Vonn, who is in a tight battle with Swiss Lara Gut for the World Cup overall title, the sport’s biggest prize this season with no Olympics or World Championships.
Vonn, a four-time World Cup overall champion (last in 2012), leads Gut by 23 points with 10 scheduled races left. Gut was also eliminated in the first round Tuesday.
Vonn and Gut next head to Andorra for a World Cup super-G and super combined on Saturday and Sunday.