Clink, clink: Vonn walks away with another medal
By ANDREW DAMPF and STEVE DOUGLAS
AP Sports Writers
Monday, February 11
ARE, Sweden (AP) — 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,” Karin Kildow, Vonn’s sister, told The Associated Press. “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.”
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From elation to ouch, a look at Lindsey Vonn’s mighty career
By PAT GRAHAM
AP Sports Writer
Saturday, February 9
Lindsey Vonn once celebrated a downhill win by attempting to spray a bottle of bubbly that turned out to be broken. Things went downhill fast with Vonn slicing her thumb on the jagged glass.
From elation to ouch in an instant. But that moment at the 2009 world championships in France — she needed tendon surgery — illustrates the bliss and bad breaks along Vonn’s road to becoming the winningest female ski racer.
She’s had plenty of iconic images in a career that will culminate with a downhill Sunday at the world championships in Sweden. Plenty of painful ones, too. On her journey, the racer from Colorado/Minnesota won three Olympic medals, four overall World Cup titles and a women’s record 82 World Cup races.
Oh, and some farm animals — a cow named Olympe, for winning an event in 2005, and a goat named Laura — after her sister — as a race reward at the ‘09 worlds.
“Without exception, she did extraordinary things,” said Tiger Shaw, the CEO of U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “She’s accomplished so many things and has overcome so much adversity in her life, with her injuries, and comebacks, and setbacks and comebacks. We’re all in awe of what she’s accomplished in her career.”
Now on to Act II of her life: Maybe a film career. Possibly becoming an entrepreneur. Maybe starting a family. Perhaps all three.
A look at some of Vonn’s feats, bumps, accomplishments and experiences over a career filled with comeback after comeback:
THE HIGHLIGHTS: Hard to pick just a few. There was her first World Cup win on Dec. 3, 2004, in a place she always felt at home — Lake Louise, a course now named after her. There’s also the Olympic gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games on a badly bruised shin; breaking Annemarie Moser-Proell’s women’s World Cup record for wins on Jan. 19, 2015, in Italy; and an Olympic bronze medal at the Pyeongchang Games last February after all her bumps in the road.
CALL IT A COMEBACK: One of the reasons she’s walking away now is so she can ski recreationally. Her knees are “broken beyond repair,” she acknowledged, after numerous surgeries. She’s also broken her left ankle (August 2015), suffered fractures in her left knee (February 2016), hyper-extended her right knee (February 2007) and been taken off the mountain by a helicopter twice (once after a training crash before the 2006 Turin Games where she returned two days later to race with a bruised hip and again at the 2013 world championships in Austria where she tore knee ligaments). One of the scarier episodes was a broken right arm in November 2016 after a training wipeout. Right after surgery, she had nerve damage and couldn’t move her fingers. She later taped a ski pole to her glove in her return to racing. Soon, she will have knee surgery for the seventh time — to repair the left knee ligament she tore during training in November. “The image of Lindsey will always be just toughness,” U.S. ski team doctor William Sterett said.
CLOSE CALL: Vonn was going for a fourth straight World Cup overall title during the 2010-11 season, when the final race of the year was called off because of the weather. She lost by three points to Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany. “Win or lose, I just wanted the chance. I feel devastated,” Vonn said at the time. Vonn won the overall the next season by more than 500 points.
HELPING OUT: Vonn has her own foundation, which is dedicated to helping girls achieve their ambitions. She also opened up in a 2012 interview with People magazine about dealing with depression. In addition, she wrote a book titled, “Strong is the New Beautiful,” which features lessons in fitness, food and attitude.
BIG INFLUENCE: Grandfather Don Kildow was a ski racer and launched her love of the sport. He died in November 2017. She scattered some of her grandfather’s ashes on a rock near the mountain where the downhill race in South Korea was held. Don Kildow served in the Army Corps of Engineers during the Korean War in the 1950s. “You taught me to be tough, to be kind, and above all, to ski fast,” she wrote on Instagram after his death. “Now, every time I ski down the mountain I know you’ll be there with me.”
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