Vonn wins bronze medal in her fi­nal race

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - SPORTS - By An­drew Dampf and Steve Dou­glas

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 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’s shed so many tears that there are none left — just like 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 due to per­sis­tent pain in both of her sur­gi­cally re­paired knees. Then came the su­per-G crash, when she strad­dled a gate in midair, flew face first down the moun­tain and slammed into the safety nets.

“She has been busi­ness as usual this whole week, say­ing I’m rac­ing to win,” said Karin Kil­dow, Vonn’s sis­ter. “I was like, ‘Just maybe make it down and maybe stand up.’ But she was like, ‘No, I’m go­ing full out.’ She was def­i­nitely in the mind­set to push it and she re­ally did.”

It’s a medal that brings Vonn full cir­cle: the Amer­i­can’s two sil­vers at the 2007 worlds 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 worlds. Stuhec fin­ished 0.23 sec­onds ahead of sil­ver medal­ist Corinne Suter of Switzer­land and 0.49 ahead of Vonn.

PHO­TOS BY CHRISTOPHE PALLOT / AGENCE ZOOM / GETTY IM­AGES

Lind­sey Vonn wins the bronze medal dur­ing the FIS World Ski Cham­pi­onships Women’s Down­hill on Sun­day in Swe­den. “I knew that I was ca­pa­ble of push­ing through the pain one last time and I did that,” she said.

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