Vonn wins bronze medal in last race

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - SPORTS -

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 last suc­cess­ful 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 had shed so many tears be­fore that there were none left at the end, akin to the lack of 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. 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 this De­cem­ber, but she re­cently moved up her plans due to per­sis­tent pain in both of her sur­gi­cally re­paired knees. Then came this past week’s su­per-G crash, when she strad­dled a gate in midair, flew face-first down the moun­tain and slammed into the safety nets.

“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.”

Sun­day’s medal brought Vonn full cir­cle: the Amer­i­can’s two sil­vers at the 2007 world cham­pi­onships on the same course in Are were the first two ma­jor cham­pi­onship medals of her ca­reer. 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, wav­ing and bow­ing to the crowd.

Even­tu­ally, Slove­nia’s Ilka Stuhec took gold, re­peat­ing as cham­pion in the event af­ter also win­ning at the 2017 world cham­pi­onships. Stuhec fin­ished 0.23 sec­ond 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 and she se­cured her fifth down­hill medal at a world cham­pi­onship, match­ing the record held by Chris­tel Cranz and An­nemarie Moser-Proell.

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

Lind­sey Vonn

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