Five Days After a Crash, Lindsey Vonn Wins Bronze Medal in Final Race of Her Career

(ARE, Sweden) — Lindsey Vonn walked off with her career haul of medals in her right hand, the gold, silver and bronze clinking together almost weighing her down.

Or was it the bulging knee braces and metal support rods inside her vast array of broken bones?

Whatever it was, the sound was a reminder of what Vonn has come to symbolize — an athlete who battled back from one major injury after another throughout her career to win more ski races than any other woman.

Add one more — final — comeback to the list.

Five days after crashing in super-G — a fall that knocked the wind out of her and left her with a black eye and a bruised rib — and three months after tearing a ligament in her left knee, Vonn won the bronze medal in the world championship downhill Sunday in the final race of her career.

She’s shed so many tears that there are none left — just like she no longer has any cartilage in her knees.

“I’m literally tapped out, I can’t cry anymore,” Vonn said. “I want to cry but it’s dry. … It’s not an easy thing to feel your bones hitting together and continue to push through it.

“Of course I’m sore. Even before the crash I was sore. So I’m just sore on top of sore. My neck is killing me,” Vonn said. “But at the end of the day no one cares if my neck hurts; they only care if I win. … I knew that I was capable of pushing through the pain one last time and I did that. … Every athlete has their own obstacles and I faced mine head on today and I conquered them.”

Vonn had been planning on retiring in December but she recently moved up her plans due to persistent pain in both of her surgically repaired knees. Then came the super-G crash, when she straddled a gate in midair, flew face first down the mountain and slammed into the safety nets.

“She has been business as usual this whole week, saying I’m racing to win,” said Karin Kildow, Vonn’s sister. “I was like, ‘Just maybe make it down and maybe stand up.’ But she was like, ‘No, I’m going full out’. She was definitely in the mindset to push it and she really did.”

It’s a medal that brings Vonn full circle: the American’s two silvers at the 2007 worlds on the same course in Are were the first two major championship medals of her career.

“I was weighing in my mind the risk of putting it all out there, crashing and getting injured again, as opposed to finishing where I wanted to,” Vonn said. “It was an internal battle.”

As soon as she exited the finish area, Vonn embraced Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark, the only skier to win more World Cup races than she did — 86 to 82.

“I basically begged him to come here via text, in all caps, many exclamation points,” Vonn said. “He’s an icon and a legend in our sport and he doesn’t really like the spotlight but he deserves to have it. I was just so grateful that he was there. Honestly, it’s a perfect ending to my career.”

The third skier on the course, Vonn had a big smile on her face when she came down with the fastest run to that point. She waved and bowed to the crowd.

Eventually, Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia beat Vonn and took gold, defending her title from the 2017 worlds. Stuhec finished 0.23 seconds ahead of silver medalist Corinne Suter of Switzerland and 0.49 ahead of Vonn.

“Not many were counting on (Vonn) to get the medal in her last race, which makes it even more special,” Stuhec said. “She has won everything.”

Vonn became the first female skier to win medals at six different world championships. It’s also her fifth downhill medal at a worlds, matching the record established by Annemarie Moser-Proell and Christel Cranz.

“Thank You Lindsey: Forever A Star,” read one sign positioned by the side of the course.

Four U.S. flags were in the grandstand when Vonn came down and there were quite a few cheers when she started her run wearing a suit with blue-and-yellow trim — Sweden’s colors — to honor Stenmark.

“She really deserves this sendoff from her great career,” said Eleanor Bodin, a 21-year-old fan from Sweden who was holding up a sign saying “Thank You Lindsey.”

“She has been my favorite skier since 2008 when I saw her winning on television,” Bodin said. “I was a little girl sitting on the sofa. I just thought what a great skier and inspiration.”

At 34, Vonn eclipsed her own record from two years ago for oldest woman to win a medal at a worlds.

Fog and wind forced organizers to shorten the course to the second reserve start, which favored Vonn because it reduced the strain on her knees.

Now she can finally let her body heel and move onto the next phase of her life — possibly acting, having children, starting a business .

“I’m looking forward to just chilling out a bit and recovering everything, including my mind,” Vonn said. “It’s been a lot to process.

“The nice thing is that, in the real world I’m actually pretty young. I have felt really old for a long time, because I’m racing with girls that are like 15 years younger than me. So now, in the real world, I’m normal. Thirty is the new 20 so I’m super young. I’ve got a lot to look forward to.”

Sports – TIME

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Lindsey Vonn Crashed in the Super-G at the World Championships Just After Announcing Upcoming Retirement

(ARE, Sweden) — One of the hallmarks of Lindsey Vonn’s career has been the way she bounces back from major crashes time and time again.

So perhaps it’s fitting that the most successful female skier of all time will enter her last race before retiring following yet another tumble into the safety netting.

Vonn straddled a gate mid-air during the super-G at the world championships Tuesday and ended up sliding down the hill face first.

“I’ve got a bit of a shiner. I feel like I’ve been hit by an 18-wheeler, but other than that I’m great,” Vonn said with a laugh. “My knees are the same as they were before the race. I think my neck’s going to be sore. I got the wind knocked out of me, my ribs are oddly sore. It’ll be fine. Sunday will be great.”

Vonn quickly got up after the fall and skied down the hill under her own power after being tended to by medical personnel. Then she sat and happily answered reporters’ questions during a half-hour news conference.

The 34-year-old Vonn, the all-time leader in women’s World Cup wins, announced last week that she will retire after racing the super-G and downhill at the worlds — meaning that Sunday’s downhill is her final race.

View this post on Instagram

It’s been an emotional 2 weeks making the hardest decision of my life, but I have accepted that I cannot continue ski racing. I will compete at the World Championships in Downhill and SG next week in Åre, Sweden and they will be the final races of my career. I have always pushed the limits of ski racing and it has allowed me to have amazing success but also dramatic crashes. I have never wanted the storyline of my career to be about injuries and because of that I decided not to tell anyone that I underwent surgery this past spring. A large portion of cartilage that had delaminated from my bone was removed. My crash in Lake Louise last year was much more painful than I let on, but I continued to race because I wanted to win a medal in the Olympics for my late grandfather. Again, I rehabbed my way back this summer and I felt better than I had in a long time. Then I crashed in Copper this November and injured my left knee, tearing my LCL plus sustaining 3 fractures. Despite extensive therapy, training and a knee brace, I am not able make the turns necessary to compete the way I know I can. My body is broken beyond repair and it isn't letting me have the final season I dreamed of. My body is screaming at me to STOP and it’s time for me to listen. Honestly, retiring isn’t what upsets me. Retiring without reaching my goal is what will stay with me forever. However, I can look back at 82 World Cup wins, 20 World Cup titles, 3 Olympic medals, 7 World Championship medals and say that I have accomplished something that no other woman in HISTORY has ever done, and that is something that I will be proud of FOREVER! I always say, “Never give up!” So to all the the kids out there, to my fans who have sent me messages of encouragement to keep going… I need to tell you that I’m not giving up! I’m just starting a new chapter. Don’t lose faith in your dreams, keep fighting for what you love, and if you always give everything you have you’ll be happy no matter what the outcome. Thank you for the amazing years, for always supporting me, and for making my job so fun. Can’t wait to see some of you in the finish in Åre where I will give it my all one last time. Love always, Lindsey

A post shared by L I N D S E Y • V O N N (@lindseyvonn) on

“Don’t count me out,” Vonn said. “I’ve got one more chance. Maybe I’ll pull off a miracle, maybe I won’t. … I’m going to try my hardest. Just because I get knocked down, it doesn’t mean I don’t get back up.”

Vonn’s long history of crashes has included frightful falls at the 2006 Turin Olympics and 2013 worlds. Her legs are so battered that she will have knee surgery for the seventh time soon after she retires — to repair the left knee ligament she tore during training in November.

“I need complete reconstruction. That will be fun. Hopefully my last surgery,” Vonn said.

Vonn was planning on retiring in December but moved up her last race upon realizing last month after failing to finish a super-G in Italy that her knees just can’t handle anymore pounding. She has discussed the long-term health risks for her body with her doctors.

“I’m screwed. I’ve known that for three years now,” Vonn said. “It’s only a matter of time. The analogy I was given was, I only have a certain amount of steps left. And I’ve run out of steps at this point. I know I’ll have pain for the rest of my life but I wouldn’t change it. … I got no cartilage, no meniscus, I got rods and plates and screws. There’s a lot going on. My head is still good, that’s all I need.”

It didn’t take Vonn long to process on why she crashed. When she barreled through a gate, the panel fitted between the two poles detached and got stuck on her boots. When she hit the ground she slid downhill face first, using her hands to keep her head from hitting the snow, then came to a stop in the netting.

“I had the right line coming in, that roll or jump had kind of a crown, it wasn’t exactly smooth and I think one of my skis hooked up and sent me into the panel,” she said. “The header into the fence wasn’t the best.

“My immediate thought was ‘What the hell? Why am I in the fence again?’ It was like, ‘Why am I here? I’m too old for this.’”

Vonn was wearing a safety air bag device under her racing suit, which inflated as she tumbled over and softened the impact when she hit the safety nets.

On a highly technical course, many other skiers also failed to finish their runs. American teammate Laurenne Ross also crashed and of the 43 starters, 14 failed to finish.

Mikaela Shiffrin won the race despite nearly making a similar error to Vonn toward the end of her run, correcting her direction in mid-air as she, too, was heading directly into a gate.

“I just squeaked by,” the American said. “That’s the sport. It’s such a fine line between the risk you have to take in order to win and then the risk where you take it’s just a little bit too much.”

Upon seeing Vonn’s crash, Shiffrin looked away from the big video screen in the finish area. Sofia Goggia, who took silver, clasped her helmet with both hands, and the crowd gasped. One American fan appeared to be crying.

“That’s Lindsey. She (goes) 100 percent or nothing,” said Austrian racer Nicole Schmidhofer, who finished 11th. “That’s why she has won so many races and why she’s an Olympic champion.”

Sports – TIME

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Olympic Alpine Skier Lindsey Vonn Announces Retirement After World Championships in Sweden

Lindsey Vonn has only two races remaining on her aching knees.

The women’s all-time leader in World Cup wins announced Friday that she will retire from ski racing after this month’s world championships in Sweden.

The 34-year-old Vonn had been planning to retire in December but changed her plans because of persistent pain in both of her knees, which she fully realized after failing to finish a race in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, last month

“It’s been an emotional 2 weeks making the hardest decision of my life, but I have accepted that I cannot continue ski racing,” Vonn wrote on Instagram. “I will compete at the World Championships in Downhill and SG (super-G) next week in Are, Sweden and they will be the final races of my career.”

View this post on Instagram

It’s been an emotional 2 weeks making the hardest decision of my life, but I have accepted that I cannot continue ski racing. I will compete at the World Championships in Downhill and SG next week in Åre, Sweden and they will be the final races of my career. I have always pushed the limits of ski racing and it has allowed me to have amazing success but also dramatic crashes. I have never wanted the storyline of my career to be about injuries and because of that I decided not to tell anyone that I underwent surgery this past spring. A large portion of cartilage that had delaminated from my bone was removed. My crash in Lake Louise last year was much more painful than I let on, but I continued to race because I wanted to win a medal in the Olympics for my late grandfather. Again, I rehabbed my way back this summer and I felt better than I had in a long time. Then I crashed in Copper this November and injured my left knee, tearing my LCL plus sustaining 3 fractures. Despite extensive therapy, training and a knee brace, I am not able make the turns necessary to compete the way I know I can. My body is broken beyond repair and it isn't letting me have the final season I dreamed of. My body is screaming at me to STOP and it’s time for me to listen. Honestly, retiring isn’t what upsets me. Retiring without reaching my goal is what will stay with me forever. However, I can look back at 82 World Cup wins, 20 World Cup titles, 3 Olympic medals, 7 World Championship medals and say that I have accomplished something that no other woman in HISTORY has ever done, and that is something that I will be proud of FOREVER! I always say, “Never give up!” So to all the the kids out there, to my fans who have sent me messages of encouragement to keep going… I need to tell you that I’m not giving up! I’m just starting a new chapter. Don’t lose faith in your dreams, keep fighting for what you love, and if you always give everything you have you’ll be happy no matter what the outcome. Thank you for the amazing years, for always supporting me, and for making my job so fun. Can’t wait to see some of you in the finish in Åre where I will give it my all one last time. Love always, Lindsey

A post shared by L I N D S E Y • V O N N (@lindseyvonn) on

The worlds open with the women’s super-G on Tuesday in the Swedish resort of Are. The women’s downhill is scheduled for Feb. 10.

“You have consistently raised the bar, you have created a legacy that will live forever, and you have given us all some of the greatest memories in our sport,” Tiger Shaw, the president and CEO of U.S. Ski and Snowboard, wrote on Twitter.

Vonn’s right knee is permanently damaged from previous crashes. The American has also torn ACLs, suffered fractures near her left knee, broken her ankle, sliced her right thumb, had a concussion and more. She’s limited now to about three runs per day, and her aching body can’t handle the workload of other skiers.

“My body is broken beyond repair and it isn’t letting me have the final season I dreamed of,” Vonn said. “My body is screaming at me to STOP and it’s time for me to listen.”

However, with 82 World Cup wins, Vonn will not be able to match the overall record of 86 held by Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark.

“Honestly, retiring isn’t what upsets me. Retiring without reaching my goal is what will stay with me forever,” Vonn said. “However, I can look back at 82 World Cup wins, 20 World Cup titles, 3 Olympic medals, 7 World Championship medals and say that I have accomplished something that no other woman in HISTORY has ever done, and that is something that I will be proud of FOREVER!”

In her announcement, Vonn also made public for the first time that she had yet another surgery on her right knee following last season.

“A large portion of cartilage that had delaminated from my bone was removed,” Vonn said, without specifying which bone. “My crash in Lake Louise last year was much more painful than I let on, but I continued to race because I wanted to win a medal in the Olympics for my late grandfather.”

Vonn achieved that goal by winning a bronze medal in downhill at last year’s Pyeongchang Games.

But then she crashed again during training in Copper Mountain, Colorado, in November, and tore the lateral collateral ligament and sustained three fractures in her left knee.

“Despite extensive therapy, training and a knee brace, I am not able make the turns necessary to compete the way I know I can,” Vonn said.

Retiring in Sweden brings Vonn full circle.

She won the first two major championship medals of her career — two silvers — at the 2007 worlds in Are. Vonn has also won seven World Cup races at the Swedish resort, including two giant slaloms, and has 12 podiums overall there.

At last season’s World Cup finals in Are, Vonn won the downhill and finished third in the super-G.

So broken knees and all, nobody will be counting Vonn out as a contender in her final races.

“Can’t wait to see some of you in the finish in Are,” she said, “where I will give it my all one last time.”

Sports – TIME

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