Skier adds to her legacy by tough­ing out one last medal

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - HE­LENE EL­LIOTT

She went all out to the very end, be­cause that’s the only way Lind­sey Vonn knew how to ski. She was bruised and bat­tered as she went to the start gate Sun­day for the fi­nal race of her ca­reer, sore all over and her right eye black­ened by the im­pact of a crash she suf­fered dur­ing a su­per-gi­ant slalom race ear­lier in the week at the world cham­pi­onships. Her lig­a­ments tore and her bones some­times broke but her com­pet­i­tive­ness was never dimmed, never dented, never com­pro­mised.

Vonn flew down the tricky world cham­pi­onships down­hill course at Are, Swe­den, as if there were no to­mor­row, and in terms of her ca­reer, there is not. The in­juries she has suf­fered over the years fi­nally over­took her at age 34, af­ter a women’s-record 82 World Cup wins, as well as 20 World Cup titles, four World Cup over­all cham­pi­onships, three Olympic medals and more stitches and surg­eries and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion stints than she cared to count. Her body sim­ply would not take any more. It would not let her tuck or shift as she once could, but on Sun­day it granted her the gift of one last and glo­ri­ous per­for­mance that made her the old­est woman to earn a medal at the world cham­pi­onships.

Vonn didn’t win the gold Sun­day. Ski­ing third, she held the lead for a while but was even­tu­ally passed by Ilka Stuhec of Slove­nia and Cor­rine Suter of Switzer­land.

She fin­ished 0.49 sec­onds be­hind Stuhec and won the bronze, a po­etic full-cir­cle jour­ney if ever there was one as she earned her last medal in the place she won her first world cham­pi­onships medals, a pair of sil­vers, in 2007.

This bronze medal was no less a tri­umph for Vonn than fin­ish­ing first would have been. The Min­nesota na­tive didn’t have to stand atop the medals podium to cap a ca­reer that

tran­scended ski­ing and car­ried over to pop­u­lar cul­ture, and not just be­cause she dated golfer Tiger Woods and, cur­rently, hockey star P.K. Sub­ban. Fe­male ath­letes too of­ten are still told how to be­have (meek or def­er­en­tial are pre­ferred), how to look (not too mus­cled or you’ll threaten men) and what they can’t or shouldn’t do. Vonn didn’t care. She made strength and as­sertive­ness virtues for women who fol­lowed her down the slopes or com­peted in any sport.

That bold­ness, and her unrelenting tough­ness, will be her legacy long af­ter her rac­ing records are bro­ken.

“She changed our sport to more pop­u­lar. She did a big dif­fer­ence in [the] sport be­cause of that Amer­i­can ap­proach. A lit­tle bit Hollywood style, which we in Europe don’t have,” re­tired Slove­nian skier Tina Maze, a four-time Olympic medal­ist, four-time world cham­pion, 26-time World Cup win­ner and one­time ri­val of Vonn’s, said dur­ing an in­ter­view with the Olympic Chan­nel. “For me, Lind­sey is al­ways a big cham­pion and al­ways was and will al­ways be.”

Af­ter her run on Sun­day, Vonn was greeted by Inge­mar Sten­mark, the shy Swede whose record of 86 World Cup vic­to­ries had been Vonn’s tar­get. He gave her flow­ers and an em­brace that she re­turned with un­fil­tered joy. She had texted him to ask him to be there — in all caps, she said, to emphasize the ur­gency — and he was. “It meant ev­ery­thing to me,” she said dur­ing NBCSN’s tele­cast. He re­turned the com­pli­ment. “I’m very im­pressed with Lind­sey that she could come back,” he said.

He didn’t have to spec­ify which come­back or from what calamity she had re­bounded be­cause there are too many to men­tion. Even this week, af­ter she had an­nounced she would move up the timetable of her re­tire­ment and call it quits af­ter the world cham­pi­onships in­stead of af­ter the sea­son, she had to deal with the con­se­quences of that su­per-G crash. “If ad­ver­sity makes you stronger I think I’m the Hulk at this point,” she said Tues­day on her Twit­ter feed.

But there was no doubt she would com­pete Sun­day. “One last time I will stand in the start­ing gate. One last time I will feel the adren­a­line run­ning through my veins,” she tweeted on Satur­day. “One last time I will risk it all. One last time ... I will re­mem­ber it for­ever. Let’s do this!”

She was un­usu­ally antsy be­fore the race, which started at a lower point on the hill than ini­tially planned be­cause of un­fa­vor­able weather conditions. That change prob­a­bly helped her be­cause she didn’t have to push her wonky knees as far. “I laid it all on the line,” she told NBCSN af­ter­ward. “I had a re­ally hard time con­trol­ling my nerves. I’m just happy I could fin­ish strong. I soaked it in one last time.”

She was greeted with cheers and signs and hugs at the fin­ish. Her fam­ily was in the crowd and so was her beloved res­cue dog Lucy. Sub­ban, busy with the NHL’s Nashville Predators, couldn’t be there but Vonn was shown on TV FaceTim­ing with him. She made it down safely, she told him, with a smile. Her legacy is safe too. Women’s ski­ing thrived be­cause of her. All fe­male ath­letes did.

Marco Trovati As­so­ci­ated Press

LIND­SEY VONN, shown with medals she has won through­out her ca­reer, be­came the old­est woman to earn a medal at the world cham­pi­onships. The 34-year-old took the bronze in her fi­nal race Sun­day.

Gio­vanni Auletta As­so­ci­ated Press

LIND­SEY VONN was greeted with cheers af­ter com­plet­ing the down­hill race in Are, Swe­den.

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