Finding an edge: Gold medalist Lindsey Vonn talks tech

From CNET Magazine: Olympic Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn is competitive, focused and determined to make a difference -- and not just on the slopes.

Connie Guglielmo SVP, AI Edit Strategy
Connie Guglielmo is a senior vice president focused on AI edit strategy for CNET, a Red Ventures company. Previously, she was editor in chief of CNET, overseeing an award-winning team of reporters, editors and photojournalists producing original content about what's new, different and worth your attention. A veteran business-tech journalist, she's worked at MacWeek, Wired, Upside, Interactive Week, Bloomberg News and Forbes covering Apple and the big tech companies. She covets her original nail from the HP garage, a Mac the Knife mug from MacWEEK, her pre-Version 1.0 iPod, a desk chair from Next Computer and a tie-dyed BMUG T-shirt. She believes facts matter.
Expertise I've been fortunate to work my entire career in Silicon Valley, from the early days of the Mac to the boom/bust dot-com era to the current age of the internet, and interviewed notable executives including Steve Jobs. Credentials
  • Member of the board, UCLA Daily Bruin Alumni Network; advisory board, Center for Ethical Leadership in the Media
Connie Guglielmo
6 min read
Technology has "changed a lot about how I train," says Vonn. "There's nothing I can do that can't be tracked." Ian Derry

Editor's note: With her win Saturday in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, celebrated athlete Lindsey Vonn has added another feather to her ski cap: She's now the most decorated World Cup downhill racer ever. CNET spoke with her about how she uses tech to train. Here's that conversation, originally published this past July.

Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn, one of the greatest female skiers in US history, admits she's a techie who embraces everything from fitness trackers to wearable cameras to help her train. She's also keen on social media, which lets her connect with fans, including kids asking how she overcame the severe knee injuries that kept her off the competitive track for two years before her record-breaking comeback during the 2014-2015 winter season.

"There are lots of girls who have written me -- a lot of injured kids who have asked me for advice about what I can give them to help them through," says Vonn, who in February set up the Lindsey Vonn Foundation to help girls "achieve their dreams."

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But Vonn, a 30-year-old Minnesota native who began "carving the local hill" when she was just 3 years old, says there's one technology she doesn't want her rivals to get their hands on anytime soon: virtual reality. That's because Vonn considers her ability to visualize a ski run a competitive edge.

"If everyone were given that opportunity to train -- to virtually train all the courses -- then it wouldn't be an advantage for me," she says with a laugh. "So I prefer if they wait a couple of years on that."

Vonn spoke with Connie Guglielmo, editor in chief of CNET News, about using tech to track her health, sleep and diet; how GoPro cameras have changed her skiing; and why she hopes people will think of her as more than just a skier.

Here are a few excerpts from their conversation.

What's your overall take on technology? Does it actually help you train?
It's changed a lot about how I train. It makes everything more accurate, and you have a lot more information you can use to improve on what you're doing. There's nothing I can do that can't be tracked. ... If I was tired on this day or didn't sleep well, I can see what I [ate] the day before or what I did. And then I can make changes.

Sometimes it is a little intrusive because you have so much information that you are giving to your trainer or your coach. But at the same time it's a lot easier to do that than to have them come to your house or do blood work to see if you are sleeping, if you're rested. ... We used to do a lot of tests at long training camps. They would test my blood to see how much muscle breakdown I had. That was a good indicator if I was overtraining. Now with all that information, I don't have to do that. So while it may seem more intrusive, it's actually less intrusive.

What specific technology do you rely on?
I use Armour39, which is the Under Armour heart-rate monitor. I actually record my workouts, and I can send them to my trainer. I use the Jawbone just as a basic tracker -- I like using it mostly for sleep. I also use a lot of GoPro [cameras]. We track a lot of my skiing, and [it] helps me analyze skiing from a different perspective. Sometimes we put it on the ski. We can see how the ski responds -- if it is vibrating too much and things like that. I use a lot of technology in pretty much everything that I do.

I have Beats wireless headphones, which makes my life nicer because I can listen to music while I work out. ...

Everything pretty much revolves around skiing and training.

Before wearable cameras and fitness trackers, you had to rely on instinct for a lot of these things. Is there such a thing as too much technology for you?
Technology is a really great tool, but you also need to have that human aspect. You know you can't just go off of what your iPhone says or what your computer says. You have to know how your body is feeling, and obviously if you are tired, you need to take a break. ... The data may say that you can train today [but] you know your body and you should listen to that probably more than technology.

"Technology is a really great tool, but you also need to have that human aspect," says Vonn. "You can't just go off of what your iPhone says or what your computer says." Ian Derry

Any interest in virtual-reality technology -- maybe to help you visualize a course before you tackle it?

I think training virtually would be a really amazing tool, but it would also give my competitors pretty big advantages as well. One thing that I feel I'm really good at is visualizing the course in my mind. I'm able to train [on] all the courses throughout the summer even though I'm obviously not skiing. If everyone [were] given that opportunity to train -- to virtually train all the courses -- then it wouldn't be an advantage for me. So, I prefer if they wait a couple of years on that.

What tech would you like to have that hasn't been invented?
I want a teleporter. I would like a device to teleport -- anything to make traveling easier. I travel so much that would be one thing that I would want people to do.

But more realistically, I would like a wearable to track my skiing -- my speed -- with some sort of GPS that shows me when I'm accelerating and decelerating. ... They've tried to make apps and trackable GPS gear that syncs up your GoPro footage with GPS -- it kind of gives you a description of how fast or slow you are going in the turns. But I found that it's really not that accurate. So, hopefully in the future they can come up with something that will help me improve my training and be able to figure out what I can do better.

You've said you really like your Apple iPhone. Why?
Yes. I had the old Nokia brick phone and went straight to the iPhone. I've been using it since the first one came out. I've never used any other smartphone beyond the iPhone.

It makes everything easier -- especially when I travel. The iPhone, with GPS, is really helpful when I'm traveling and you can't find the mountain or the village. You have the iPhone with your navigation. I'm traveling all the time so it makes my life easier to be able to have that.

What about an Apple Watch?
I'm a Rolex user. So I probably won't be able to use the Apple Watch, but my sister will probably test it out for me and tell me how it's going. I think there are some aspects that could be really cool -- it also tracks your sleep and [is] similar to the Jawbone. But we'll see.

Watch this: The tech Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn doesn't want rivals to use

You tell a story about how you met one of your skiing idols, Picabo Street, when she visited your hometown. Now you use social media to reach your fans. What do you like about social media?
Social media is a really good platform to be able to communicate with fans. And especially since my last two surgeries, a lot of people have written me asking how they can recover better or rehab better from their injuries. And I know a lot of kids also say that, you know, "My career is over; I cannot be a skier anymore." I just like to write them back and give them a little bit of motivation and inspiration to try to get them back on their feet and smiling again. So I think social media is a really good way to communicate with fans that way.

Everyone knows you as a skier, and you've been called one of the greatest female skiers in history. How would you like to be described?
I hope people recognize me as a great skier, but also as a good person: someone who tries to give back as much as possible. I started my own foundation, the Lindsey Vonn Foundation, in February. My goal is to empower young women -- so it's a whole other side of me that people don't necessarily know about.

I would hope people think of me as a determined and successful athlete and also someone who tries to give back. ... I'm not just a skier. I'm not just a skier.

This story appears in the summer edition of CNET Magazine. For other magazine stories, go here.