An ap­pro­pri­ate end for Lind­sey Vonn

Nancy Ar­mour: Leg­endary skier lands on the podium in her fi­nal ca­reer race

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Nancy Ar­mour Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

Shat­tered knees be damned, Lind­sey Vonn left on her terms.

Up­right and on the podium.

So many snap­shots of Vonn’s skiing ca­reer are of her bat­tered and bro­ken, scary crashes that robbed her of the chance for even more Olympic medals and more World Cup vic­to­ries. Even this past week, a crash in the su­per-G left her with a black eye and a bruised rib.

Yet it will be this fi­nal im­age of Vonn that res­onates: Hands raised in tri­umph, a smile spread wide across her face, an­other medal around her neck.

Forced to bring a sooner-thanex­pected end to her ca­reer, Vonn pushed aside the pain for one last, great run, winning the bronze medal in the down­hill in the world cham­pi­onships Sun­day.

In­juries might have dic­tated the when of her re­tire­ment, but she de­cided the how.

“I’m go­ing to put this next to the gold medals,” Vonn told NBC af­ter the race in Are, Swe­den. “This, to me, was an in­cred­i­ble race. I fought with my heart the whole way down.”

That, even more than the records, is what de­fines Vonn.

She will be re­mem­bered as one of the great­est ski rac­ers ever, male or fe­male.

Her 82 World Cup vic­to­ries are sec­ond only to the 86 of Inge­mar Sten­mark, who was there to greet her in the fin­ish area.

She is an Olympic cham­pion, hav­ing won gold in the down­hill in the 2010 Win­ter Games in Van­cou­ver.

Her eight down­hill ti­tles are a record, and her four over­all ti­tles are most by an Amer­i­can.

But it is Vonn’s grit and per­se­ver­ance that made her iconic.

There is not a part of her body that’s been left un­scathed, her cat­a­log of in­juries in­clud­ing con­cus­sions, nerve dam­age, bro­ken bones in her arm, an­kle and leg, and, of course, her shred­ded knees. Yet time and again, Vonn got back up, the strength of her de­ter­mi­na­tion and will un­matched.

Vonn had hoped to con­tinue skiing through De­cem­ber so she could end her ca­reer at her beloved Lake Louise. But the 34-year-old an­nounced this month that a crash in Novem­ber had left her with more torn knee lig­a­ments.

“My body is bro­ken be­yond re­pair and it isn’t let­ting me have the fi­nal sea­son I dreamed of,” she wrote Feb. 1 on In­sta­gram, an­nounc­ing that the su­per-G and down­hill at the world cham­pi­onships would be her fi­nal races. “My body is scream­ing at me to STOP and it’s time for me to lis­ten.”

Af­ter crash­ing in the su­per-G, no one would have blamed Vonn had she made her start in the down­hill a cer­e­mo­nial one. Taken one last, leisurely glide down the moun­tain.

But Vonn has never done any­thing half­way, and she wasn’t about to start now.

“Guns ablaze,” Vonn said in an in­ter­view be­fore the race. “All the way to the fin­ish.”

True to her word, she re­cov­ered from a slow start and at­tacked the sec­ond half of the course. She flew across the fin­ish line in first place, then waited to see if her time would hold up.

Slove­nia’s Ilka Stuhec, the reign­ing world cham­pion, pushed Vonn into sec­ond place. Switzer­land’s Corinne Suter would bump her to third. But with the sun dip­ping be­hind clouds and cast­ing shad­ows across the course, no one else would chal­lenge her.

Vonn’s spot on the podium was se­cure. She had de­fied the rav­ages of her in­juries one last time.

“It’s been an amaz­ing ca­reer, and to end on this note ... means ev­ery­thing to me,” Vonn said.

“I’ve ac­cepted where I am in my life,” she added. “I’m happy and I’m ex­cited for the fu­ture. I’ve cried enough tears, and now it’s just time to en­joy it.”

Lind­sey Vonn might not have won every race in her ca­reer. But she never let her­self be beaten, right up un­til the very end.

SE­BASTIEN BOUE/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BOTT/AP

Lind­sey Vonn cel­e­brates with US Ski mem­bers af­ter the flower cer­e­mony of the women’s down­hill race Sun­day in the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cham­pi­onships in Are, Swe­den. Vonn won the bronze medal.

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