Vonn’s fi­nal race pro­duces a bronze medal that might just as well be gold

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By John Meyer

On the day Lind­sey Vonn raced for the last time, the undis­puted king and queen of the sport em­braced each other with hugs on his home soil to honor her ca­reer. And to make the oc­ca­sion even more mo­men­tous, she gave them one more achieve­ment to cel­e­brate.

On the same slope in Swe­den where she won her first world cham­pi­onships medals in 2007, Vonn claimed her eighth world cham­pi­onships medal Sun­day, a bronze in down­hill. Wait­ing for her in the fin­ish area was Swe­den’s Inge­mar Sten­mark, the man whose all-time record for World Cup wins she came only four short of ty­ing.

Sten­mark, 62, is a fa­mously shy and pri­vate man who is rarely seen on the ski cir­cuit, but Vonn had urged him to be there for her fi­nal race and he obliged. He also pre­sented flow­ers to the medal­ists at the podium cer­e­mony.

“Inge­mar be­ing in the fin­ish area was lit­er­ally the best thing that’s ever hap­pened in my life,” Vonn said in a fin­ish-area in­ter­view with NBCSN’s An­drea Joyce, where they were joined by Sten­mark. “At the risk of sound­ing su­per des­per­ate, I lit­er­ally texted him in all caps like, ‘PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE COME.’ It meant ev­ery­thing to me. He’s kind of a shy guy. I pulled him into the spot­light be­cause he de­serves it.”

Sten­mark, whose 86th and fi­nal World Cup win came at Aspen in 1989, con­ceded he is “very shy,”

but clearly he was happy to at­tend Vonn’s fi­nal coro­na­tion. They posed to­gether for pic­tures af­ter the podium cer­e­mony.

“I am very im­pressed of Lind­sey that she skis so good and could come back af­ter many in­juries,” Sten­mark said. “That’s fan­tas­tic.”

Vonn has al­ways craved the adren­a­line rush of high-speed down­hill, and her fi­nal ride lasted just over 62 sec­onds with an av­er­age speed just a tick un­der 60 mph and a top speed of 73 mph. She fin­ished 0.49 sec­onds be­hind gold medal­ist Ilka Stuhec of Slove­nia. Corinne Suter of Switzer­land took sil­ver.

“I laid it all on the line, and that’s all I wanted to do to­day,” Vonn told Joyce. “I have to ad­mit I was a bit ner­vous, prob­a­bly the most ner­vous I’ve ever been in my life. I wanted to fin­ish strong so badly, and I had a re­ally hard time con­trol­ling my nerves.

“I just charged. I gave it ev­ery­thing I have, like al­ways. I put the nerves aside and I just en­joyed it. I love go­ing fast, and it was just a per­fect day for down­hill.”

Asked where she would rank her bronze medal — the same color she claimed at last year’s Olympics in down­hill — Vonn said she would “put it next to the gold medals” be­cause of all the pain and in­juries she has en­dured in re­cent years. Vonn had crashed hard in Tues­day’s su­per-G, leav­ing her with a black eye.

“I fought with my heart the whole way down,” Vonn said. “Def­i­nitely not with my body, but more so with my heart.”

Af­ter 433 races — count­ing World Cups, Olympics and world cham­pi­onships — Vonn walked away from the sport she dom­i­nated with sore knees but a full heart. Joyce asked her what she would miss most.

“I’m not go­ing to miss be­ing cold,” Vonn said. “I’m go­ing to miss be­ing with my team. We’re a fam­ily, and it’s go­ing to be hard to not be around them. I’ve ac­cepted where I am in my life, and I’m happy and I’m ex­cited for the fu­ture. I’ve cried enough tears and now it’s just time to en­joy it.”

Christophe Pal­lot/Agence Zoom, Getty Im­ages

Lind­sey Vonn, the win­ningest fe­male ski racer of all time, cel­e­brates her fi­nal race with Inge­mar Sten­mark, the win­ningest male ski racer of all time, Sun­day at the world cham­pi­onships in Are, Swe­den. Vonn reached the podium, fin­ish­ing third in the down­hill.

Christophe Pal­lot/Agence Zoom, Getty Im­ages

Vonn hits the fin­ish line for the last time, earn­ing a bronze medal Sun­day in the down­hill at the world cham­pi­onships in Are, Swe­den.

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