An Alpine Skiing World Cup Begins Without Lindsey Vonn
A Quick Film Review
As the 2021/22 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup gets underway this weekend, it occurred to me that, as both the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, this season will be the first full one without Lindsey Vonn since 2000. And, it's the first Olympic season since then to start without at least expecting her to compete in the Games.
A four-time Olympian between Salt Lake 2002 and Pyeongchang 2018 (she missed Sochi 2014 with injury), Vonn's three Olympic medals, eight World Championship medals, and 137 World Cup podiums made her the elite of elite athletes on the circuit. Add in her telegenic personality and cover-model looks, and she easily became the poster-child of winter sports for Team USA.
But she had a competitive drive that powered her to all that ski slope success. And, The Final Season is unflinching in its look at Vonn's attempt to improve on her women's record of 82 World Cup wins and overtake men's legend Ingemar Stenmark at 86. Just five wins in the 2019/20 season of 13 stops would get her past Stenmark...but it's in a year in which her injuries and years of competition finally get the better of her.
One supposes that such a documentary was planned to showcase her 87th win, and a retirement in the glow of establishing herself as the all-time greatest. But what's that they say about best laid plans? In the end, though, we're offered a gripping, sympathetic look at an athlete pushing herself toward a goal, and reckoning with this one goal just not in reach anymore. It's tough to watch at times, but rewarding for the chance to see Vonn in this competitive, fighting light. Superstar athletes are often 'superstar' because their success looks natural and easy. Add in the celebrity spotlight, particularly in Vonn's case, and it's easy to not realize the grit and fortitude behind the champion.
The Final Season shows us that determination, and the emotional stress of a career end. Rather than the strived-for fairytale ending, the struggle at the end is far more common across sports. That she does end the season with a final podium finish is testament to her strength. Kudos to Vonn for an exceptional run in her chosen sport, and for showing us the true, human, last months of a skiing champion.