Vonn's le­gacy not solely de­fined by wins, crashes

Woonsocket Call - - SPORTS - By PAT GRAHAM

AP Sports Writer

The tem­per­a­ture: ab­so­lutely freez­ing. The time: barely af­ter sun­rise.

The place: the bot­tom of a train­ing hill in Vail, Colorado, wait­ing for Lind­sey Vonn to fin­ish a few runs to test her sur­gi­cally re­paired knee just be­fore the 2014 Sochi Games — an Olympics she ended up miss­ing be­cause of that trou­ble­some knee.

"Why on Earth would you wait in this?!" an in­cred­u­lous Vonn asked me as she threw on her parka.

That one needed no an­swer.

If you've waited in the bit­ter cold, pressed against the fenc­ing wait­ing for an in­ter­view, or, as a fan, planned your en­tire day around see­ing Vonn — even if for just that mag­i­cal split sec­ond when she sped by you on the mountain — then you were not alone. You were lucky. Freez­ing, per­haps. But lucky.

Be­cause great­ness like that doesn't come along of­ten.

In an un­sci­en­tific sur­vey of fans, friends, fam­ily mem­bers and ri­vals to un­cover the per­fect word that best cap­tured her , each per­son an­swered with a vari­a­tion of three — a podium of sorts to de­scribe the most win­ningest fe­male World Cup skier ever. Re­silient. Stub­born. Game-changer. Maybe that's why she kept go­ing even af­ter ev­ery out­ward and in­ward sign told her to stop.

At 34 and with her knees sim­ply re­fus­ing to co­op­er­ate any­more, the 2010 down­hill Olympic cham­pion and the four-time over­all World Cup ti­tle win­ner pushed out of the start gate for a fi­nal time at the world cham­pi­onships Sun­day in Swe­den.

It was vin­tage Vonn as she roared through the down­hill course to earn one last podium spot — a bronze medal that felt like pure gold. Be­fore ex­it­ing the stage, she waved to the crowd and took one fi­nal bow.

A well-de­served mo­ment over a ca­reer filled with crashes and come­backs, cel­e­bra­tions and tri­umphs, bro­ken bones and bro­ken hearts, red car­pets and golden op­por­tu­ni­ties.

"The com­pelling na­ture of Lind­sey's story is not her vic­to­ries or medals. It is her dar­ing, her will­ing­ness to work ex­traor­di­nar­ily hard, and her grit," said her fa­ther, Alan Kil­dow, who moved the fam­ily from Min­nesota to Colorado to help nur­ture his daugh­ter's tal­ent when she was young.

"With­out fail­ure there can be no true vic­tory, and Lind­sey rep­re­sents the will- in­g­ness to risk fail­ure to ul­ti­mately achieve her dreams."

Podium word No. 1: re­silient.

The image was jar­ring: Vonn whisked away from the mountain by a he­li­copter af­ter a vi­o­lent crash.

Not once. Twice.

The first copter ride was af­ter a down­hill train­ing crash be­fore the 2006 Turin Games. Two days later, and with a bruised hip, she fin­ished eighth in the down­hill. The other, Fe­bru­ary 2013 at the world cham­pi­onships in Aus­tria when she tore her ACL and MCL. It took her months to get back — she re-in­jured the knee and it cost her the shot at de­fend­ing her down­hill ti­tle at the Sochi Games — but re­turn she did.

Come­backs and tough­ness have al­ways been her thing. Her dad com­pared her to Rocky Bal­boa be­cause she's the "ev­ery­man who climbs into the ring, takes a beat­ing, and gets back up off the can­vas to win the bout."

That abil­ity to bounce back served her well over a ca­reer that in­cluded torn knee lig­a­ments, bro­ken bones, a sliced thumb and so much more.

Her first World Cup start was Nov. 18, 2000, in a slalom race in Park City, Utah, and she didn't qual­ify for the sec­ond run.

She was known as Lind­sey Kil­dow then, un­til she changed her name to Vonn af­ter mar­ry­ing her now ex-hus­band, Thomas, in 2007.

They an­nounced their di­vorce in 2011 and she never changed her name back be­cause, well, the world knew her as Vonn. Dur­ing her mar­riage, she was es­tranged from her fa­ther, but they have mended the re­la­tion­ship.

She'd win 82 World Cup races — four be­hind the all­time mark held by Swe­den's Inge­mar Sten­mark, who showed up Sun­day at her re­quest — and drew com­par­isons to com­pa­triot Bode Miller, who was rev­ered for his high-risk ap­proach.

"What she's done for the sport, in­spir­ing so many youth, girls and boys, and show­ing you can com­pete with the big su­per­stars in Europe, we're all proud," Amer­i­can racer Daron Rahlves said.

As the U.S. ski team doc­tor for more than 20 years, Dr. Wil­liam Sterett can't help but mar­vel at her re­siliency.

"I don't know any­body in any other sport that's had to bounce back as many times as she has," Sterett said. "She's come back just as tough and just as driven as she ever was."

Podium word No. 2: stub­born. Word of cau­tion — don't tell Vonn she can't do some­thing.

It fires her up.

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