Skiing great ends ca­reer with bronze medal

Star skier pushes through knee pain one last time

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - SPORTS -

Amer­i­can Lind­sey Vonn fin­ishes with 82 World Cup race vic­to­ries.

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 more — fi­nal — come­back to the list

Five days af­ter crash­ing in su­perG — 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 as 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 be­cause of per­sis­tent pain in her sur­gi­cally re­paired knees. Then came the su­perG crash, when she strad­dled a gate in midair, flew face first down the moun­tain and slammed into the safety nets.

The medal brings 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.

“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 world cham­pi­onships. 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 world cham­pi­onships. It’s also her fifth down­hill medal at a worlds, match­ing the record es­tab­lished by An­nemarie Moser-Proell and Chris­tel Cranz.

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

Now she can fi­nally let her body heel and move on to 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 AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Lind­sey Vonn won a bronze medal to end her skiing ca­reer in Are, Swe­den, where her two sil­vers in 2007 were her first two ma­jor cham­pi­onship medals. She to­taled 82 vic­to­ries.

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