Lind­sey Vonn grabs third place in fi­nal race of ca­reer

Grabs 3rd in last race of ca­reer

New York Daily News - - SPORTS - JANE MCMANUS,

There is a beau­ti­ful reck­less­ness in alpine ski­ing, and no one rode that edge bet­ter than Lind­sey Vonn. Take this, her last week of com­pe­ti­tion as the per­fect il­lus­tra­tion. In the Su­per-G at the World Cham­pi­onships in Are Swe­den, she sped into an epic crash and re­ceived a black eye and bruised a rib. Then, in the last race of her pro­fes­sional ca­reer five days later, that same speed won the bronze medal in the down­hill.

She hit 73 miles per hour on that last run, ac­cord­ing to The Den­ver Post.

“You have to search for that line of disas­ter ev­ery time you com­pete,” said se­nior ESPN The Mag­a­zine writer Wayne Drehs, who has vis­ited Vonn and writ­ten ex­ten­sively on her come­back. “Ev­ery stage of her ca­reer she is ei­ther end­ing up in the fence or on the podium.”

Let’s start with the podium. Vonn tied the record for over­all World Cup cham­pi­onships with four. She has three Olympic medals, in­clud­ing one gold in down­hill in 2010, and a come­back bronze in the down­hill in 2018 in South Korea. She leaves the sport with 82 wins in World Cup events, sec­ond only to Inge­mar Sten­mark with 86. At ev­ery step, Vonn drove Olympic rat­ings and in­ter­est in women’s sports.

“She de­manded more prime­time cov­er­age be­cause how can you not want to watch a woman who was driven to be the best there ever was, ev­ery sin­gle time she skied,” said gold-win­ning Olympic soc­cer player Julie Foudy in an email. “There was no com­pro­mis­ing for Vonn. How of­ten did we watch her come back from a knee surgery or bro­ken limb or ma­jor ac­ci­dent, and there she was at the top of the moun­tain, smil­ing and ea­ger for more medals.”

The 34-year-old is the first Amer­i­can to dom­i­nate a sport with deep roots in Europe, to win a gold medal, and to do it all as her knees be­came less and less sta­ble. There are only so many epic wipe­outs a body can take be­fore erod­ing struc­tural in­tegrity.

“Lind­sey Vonn is the ul­ti­mate com­peti­tor,” said gold medal win­ning Olympic swim­mer Donna de Varona. “Fear­less, she has over­come in­cred­i­ble ob­sta­cles to re­main strong for her rac­ing pas­sion. I am sure her de­ci­sion to leave what she loves has been painful. We will miss her bril­liant pres­ence on the slopes.”

You can eas­ily find video of the 2013 crash on the in­ter­net. Vonn is pum­mel­ing the gates of the Su­per-G at the Alpine World Cham­pi­onships in Aus­tria. She takes the air as part of a drop on the course, but the land­ing isn’t right, she screams and tum­bles to a stop with her leg at a sick­en­ing an­gle.

She had torn her ACL, her MCL and bro­ken her tibia in her right knee. She had one year to re­cover be­fore the Sochi Olympics.

Drehs cov­ered Vonn as she at­tempted to man­age the pain and weak­ness that comes from hav­ing two sur­gi­cally re­paired knees. We have come so far when it comes to the sci­ence be­hind in­juries and train­ing. Ca­reers are ex­tended, and with the rise of prize money and en­dorse­ments, the in­cen­tive to get back in the game is real – what­ever the sport.

But with Vonn, that drive to re­cover has seemed as risky as the way she ap­proaches the gates on a moun­tain.

“I would al­most say bor­der­line un­healthy,” Drehs said. “Where some­times fam­ily and friends were like, ‘Are you sure you want to push your­self to this ex­treme?’”

Vonn was not able to make it back for Sochi, and she missed all of 2014. She did get back on the slopes, but she wasn’t able to main­tain the sta­bil­ity needed to pre­vent fur­ther in­jury. She broke her left an­kle in 2015 and her left knee in 2016. Later that year, she broke her right arm. Ear­lier this year, Vonn just re­vealed there was another knee surgery.

Af­ter each in­jury, as re­cov­ery from one in­jury pre­ceded the next, win­ning the bronze in South Korea last year was a par­tic­u­larly sweet mo­ment. At 33, she was the old­est woman to win an Alpine ski­ing medal. NBC notes that 24 mil­lion view­ers tuned in to see Vonn win that night.

Re­search from the Uni­ver­sity of Alabama showed that it was the first Olympics in which prime-time cov­er­age of women’s sports eclipsed that de­voted to men. Not only did NBC fol­low the medals, it fol­lowed the ath­letes that view­ers were in­vested in.

“And be­yond be­ing an ex­cel­lent skier who oozed courage, she had celebrity, she had charisma, she had a swag­ger that de­manded she be cov­ered,” Foudy noted. “As a viewer, we for­got we were watch­ing gen­der, we were sim­ply watch­ing an ath­lete win that mo­ment. It re­minded us that this is what sports should be.”

We’ve been say­ing good­bye to Vonn in stages.

There wasn’t just the in­evitabil­ity of re­peated in­juries, but Vonn her­self started to won­der if beat­ing Sten­mark’s 86 wins was worth the phys­i­cal toll. Sten­mark was there to greet her in Swe­den af­ter she won her last bronze. He is no­to­ri­ously shy, but made the ap­pear­ance out of re­spect for Vonn’s ac­com­plish­ments.

“My body is bro­ken be­yond re­pair and it isn’t let­ting me have the fi­nal sea­son I dreamed of,” Vonn wrote in an In­sta­gram post ear­lier this month.

And yet, Vonn’s ca­reer was the dream ac­tu­al­ized. She pushed her­self well be­yond her lim­its in ev­ery sense, and made for thrilling view­ing.

down­hill race at alpine ski World Cham­pi­onships in Are, Swe­den. AP

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