“Breezy Johnson has been the leading speed skier on the women’s side, and she’s a good friend of mine and great personality. I’m excited to watch her. And, of course, Mikaela Shiffrin—she’s been skiing really well and is going to be amazing to watch, as always,” said Vonn, who is the cover star of FN’s January issue and recently signed on as a primetime correspondent for NBC’s Olympics coverage.
Vonn also released her memoir, Rise, this month, in which she recounts her childhood training at the Buck Hill ski area just south of Minneapolis. It’s an experience she shares with one of the 2022 team members: 27-year-old Paula Moltzan, who is competing in the slalom and giant-slalom events. “There’s quite a good group of girls that are coming up on to watch,” said Vonn.
Though she previously worked as a correspondent for The Today Show and NBC Sports during the 2014 Olympics (when injuries prevented her from competing), Vonn told FN this is the first time she’ll be covering non-ski events at the games.
“This is going to be a new one for me,” she said.
To prepare, she’s digging into the film and leaning on her highly experienced colleagues. “I’m working with Mike Tirico, who is obviously amazing, and I have a good relationship with him, so I’m just going to learn from him. And I’ll do my research and study the athletes and their competitions leading up to it.”
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This is the first Winter Olympics that Vonn will not compete in since announcing her retirement in 2019. While she told FN it’ll be “hard to watch,” she’s also had time to prepare herself. “It was nice last year watching the Summer Olympics. Those are always easier for me to watch because I obviously was never a summer athlete,” she said. “And one thing that does make it easier is that I’ve never competed in China. If it was a place that I had competed before, I think I would overanalyze it more in my mind. This is a little bit easier to be a spectator because I don’t know the course.”
The Beijing Olympics have been fraught with challenges this past year, including the ongoing pandemic, which is keeping Vonn in the U.S. According to reports, NBC is not sending any of its Olympic specialist commentary teams to China due to COVID travel restrictions and health concerns.
Additionally, tense political clashes between the U.S. and China have led American diplomats to boycott the games.
Vonn said those sorts of controversies can make competition more difficult for Olympic hopefuls, but most athletes know how to manage outside pressures. “Generally, athletes, especially in the Olympics, want to try to block everything else out that’s going on around them and focus on the task at hand if they want to perform to the best of their ability,” she said.
And it’s not like drama is a new concept at the games, Vonn pointed out. “Historically, there’s always been some controversial situation at almost every Olympics, whether it’s because of the location or controversies with athletes or coaching — there’s always something going on,” she said. “That’s just the nature of sports, especially with the global spotlight.”