By Amy Tennery
(Reuters) – Winter Olympic athletes are facing enormous challenges ahead of the 2022 Beijing Games, former Olympic Alpine skiing downhill champion Lindsey Vonn told Reuters, as the COVID-19 pandemic has upended “normalcy” across the globe.
With the 2020 Summer Olympics pushed back a year, American Vonn, who retired in 2019 having claimed a women’s record 82 World Cup victories, said the challenges athletes are facing in the coronavirus era go beyond any norm.
“Athletes are so laser focused on training all the time and this has really derailed a lot of that sense of normalcy, and for some, purpose,” Vonn said.
Vonn, who is appearing on Wednesday at the Women’s Sports Foundation Annual Salute to Women in Sports, has been an outspoken advocate for mental health and encouraged athletes to be mindful of their wellbeing beyond training.
“The best advice I could give to athletes struggling to find calm in this chaotic time is to put yourself first,” said Vonn.
The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than a million people worldwide and upended daily life for countless more across the globe.
In the world of sport, the outbreak has forced numerous delays, cancellations and postponements in 2020, including wiping out the alpine racing schedule in North America.
“I really, really feel for the athletes this year. It’s difficult in any circumstances to get ready for the Olympics, let alone now with all the uncertainty,” Vonn, 35, said.
“The biggest challenge for the athletes coming into the Beijing Games, I would think, is going to be adaptability.”
Vonn, who won Olympic downhill gold in Vancouver in 2010, has had to adapt as well.
After an emotional transition into retirement last year, she has poured herself into passion projects – including her eponymous foundation – and spent more time with her fiance, NHL player P.K. Subban.
“There will be so many new challenges and the best athletes will have to adapt to their surroundings and perform under new circumstances than ever before,” Vonn said.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery, editing by Ed Osmond)