A tearful Lindsey Vonn vowed Friday to “lay it all out” at her fourth olympics to honour her late grandfather, the inspiration behind her stellar ski career.
“It’s really hard for me not to cry,” Vonn said when asked about Don Kildow, who died in November at the age of 88.
“I just want so badly to do well for him. I miss him so much, he’s been such a big part of my life.
“I really hoped he’d have been alive to see me, but I know he’s watching and I know he’s going to help me, and I’m going to win for him.”
Don Kildow built the first ski hill around Milton, Wisconsin, and taught his own children to ski before going on to inspire his grandchildren.
“You taught me to be tough, to be kind, and above all, to ski fast,” Vonn said in an Instagram post shortly after his death, one of many social media postings hailing the influence of her grandfather, who was ironically stationed not far from the Jeongseon Alpine Centre when he served with the US army during the Korean War.
Vonn confirmed she felt “really good”, but added: “It’s not really about me or my career, it’s about my grandfather.
“I’m just going to lay it all out there. I’m going to give it everything I have and whatever happens will happen.
“I’m not going to be nervous, I know he’s looking out for me and that gives me some peace of mind.”
Walking in my last opening ceremonies with my teammates tonight was incredible.🙏🏻🇺🇸 So honored to be a part of this team! Sports has the power to unite the world, and watching N & S Korea walk together tonight is what it’s all about. 🌏❤️
— lindsey vonn (@lindseyvonn) February 9, 2018
Vonn won Olympic gold in the downhill and super-G bronze at the 2010 Games, but missed the 2014 olympics through injury.
This time around she confirmed she will compete in the downhill, super-G and the combined.
“I’m coming in on a hot streak,” the 33-year-old said. “I love the track here, the downhill is really well suited for me.
“But I’ve decided not to do the giant slalom because my knee’s not in place to do that.
“I don’t think I can contend for a medal so there’s no point.”
Vonn, a four-time overall World Cup champion, has notched up 81 World Cup victories said she has Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 race wins in her sights.
“I’m definitely going to ski another season after this,” she said.
“I’m going to continue skiing until I get to 86. I think next year I can get beyond that. As long as my knee is holding up and I’m still able to win then I will keep skiing, but it really depends on my knee, that’s the determing factor on my retirement.”
Having spent the best part of three years in rehabilitation since 2012, Vonn left no one in any doubt about her focus.
“My entire summer has been focused on the olympics. It’s what I think about the first thing when I wake up and it’s what I think about when I go to sleep.”
The two Koreas marched together and South Korea’s president shared a historic handshake with Kim Jong Un’s sister as the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opened in a spirit of intense rapprochement on Friday.
At a glittering but sub-zero ceremony, South and North Korea brought the crowd to its feet as they entered behind the blue-and-white Korean unification flag.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in shook the hand of a smiling Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as he entered the VIP seating section, and again as the Korean athletes marched.
South and North Korea last marched together at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. They also made the symbolic gesture at the opening of the 2000 and 2004 Olympics in Sydney and Athens.
“You will inspire us all to live together in peace and harmony despite all the differences we have,” said International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, before Moon declared the Games open.
Kim Yu-na, South Korea’s former gold medal-winning figure skater, wore skates as she lit the Olympic cauldron, after being handed the torch by two members of the joint Korean women’s ice hockey team.
Lee Hee-beom, head of the Games organising committee, said: “the North and South have become one through the Olympics”.
“Pyeongchang Olympics will become the hope and light for everyone that hopes for peace, not only on the Korean peninsula but in northeast Asia and the entire world,” said Lee.
In contrast, Russia’s athletes entered the ceremony behind a neutral flag after their team was suspended over a doping scandal. Despite the ban, 168 “Olympic Athletes from Russia” will compete in Pyeongchang.
Shivering athletes and spectators are bracing for one of the coldest Winter olympics on record, with real-feel temperatures plumbing minus 10C at the opening ceremony.
Japan’s speed skaters are among the athletes who decided it was too cold to brave the open-air ceremony, while organisers handed out heat packs, blankets and hats to keep spectators warm.
But Tonga’s Pita Taufatofua, echoing his eye-catching entrance at the Rio olympics, happily braved the chill as he appeared stripped to the waist and with his chest heavily oiled.
Expectations are sky-high for an array of stars at Pyeongchang, including American skiers Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn, while the drama in figure skating centres on whether Japan’s “Ice Prince” Yuzuru Hanyu can recover from injury to retain his crown.
Potential winners also include French flag-bearer Martin Fourcade in biathlon, hoping to add to his two gold medals in Sochi in 2014.
Competition gets into full swing on Saturday with five gold medals available, in ski jumping, cross country skiing, biathlon, speed skating and short-track speed skating.
Italian Christof Innerhofer topped Friday’s second men’s downhill training as Olympic racers battled tough conditions in alpine skiing’s blue riband event.
Innerhofer, who won downhill silver and combined bronze in Sochi four years ago, clocked 1min 18.97sec down a course shortened because of high winds atop the Jeongseon course.
It could prove to be an invaluable ski out, with weather conditions threatening Saturday’s third training and a potential rescheduling of Sunday’s actual downhill race, although nothing has been officially confirmed.
“It was very windy from behind on the track, I took the good wind with me, it blew me down!” said the 33-year-old Innerhofer.
Innerhofer, who has form on the mountain having finished second in the super-G in the test World Cup event two years ago, has struggled to bother the podium on a regular basis since his Sochi showing but insisted he still had something to offer.
“Sometimes I think about Sochi, especially when I go back home after every race and see my medals, it’s good memories,” he said.
“But I’m still here, because I want to live for the future, not the past. I would like to win.
“Sometimes I think maybe I can’t keep up with the best guys like I was years before, but I still try to believe and to give my best.”
Innerhofer predicted few surprises come race day here “because this slope is different from last two olympics. It will be skiing quick for known racers like Jansrud”.
Kjetil Jansrud, who won super-G gold and downhill bronze in Sochi as well as giant slalom in Vancouver in 2010, finished just behind Innerhofer but didn’t put much stock in the rankings.
“It’s not a training run that tells you very much,” he said, listing the shortened course, the shifting tailwind and a shaved down last jump.
Jansrud expressed his hope that the downhill would be held over a full course rather than an abbreviated one, and in “optimal conditions”.
“The message we got was that they wanted to do a downhill from the top in fair conditions,” he said.
“I’m thankful to hear that because that’s the way it should be in the olympics and we do have reserve days.
“If it’s more windy than today, the gondola is not going to run so then we have a major problem for everybody and it’s not going to happen.”
Canada’s Manuel Osborne-Paradis, who topped Thursday’s first training, said he had “no worries whatsover about the weather, we live in an outdoor sport”.
“If we were worried about the weather we’d have been screwed a long time ago when you’re like 10, 11, 12 years old,” he said.
“In and out of clouds, the wind, snow picks up, whatever – you push out the gate and you do your best for two minutes and all the stars have to align anyway, that’s the only factor you’re in charge of is how you ski.”
Jansrud’s Norwegian teammate Aksel Lund Svindal, a three-time medallist in Vancouver, said the field was wide open.
“On any given day, anything can happen. Downhill in the olympics is any given day,” the 35-year-old said.
“On any World Cup it’s hard to predict the winner… but here there’s one downhill every fourth year and then it really gets a lot of focus and if there’s a prize you remember it longer.”
Austria’s defending Olympic champion Matthias Mayer said the course was “much easier” than the icy challenge that was the downhill in Sochi.
“It’s going to be so close on Sunday as a result,” said the 27-year-old, who upset a host of favoured rivals to claim a shock win before he’d even claimed a World Cup downhill victory.
“It’s always so, so special for all of us.”