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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Lindsey Vonn celebrates with her U.S. Ski teammates after winning the bronze medal Sunday in the downhill at the world championship, her final race.

Monday, February 11, 2019 1:00 am

Vonn closes career with bronze medal

Races downhill 5 days after crash in super-G

ANDREW DAMPF and STEVE DOUGLAS | Associated Press

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.”

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.

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.

Eventually, Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia beat Vonn and took gold, defending her title from the 2017 worlds. Stuhec finished 0.23 second ahead of silver medalist Corinne Suter of Switzerland and 0.49 ahead of Vonn.

Vonn became the first female skier to win medals at six different world championships. It's also her fifth downhill medal at a worlds, matching the record established by Annemarie Moser-Proell and Christel Cranz. 

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

Now she can finally let her body heel and move onto the next phase of her life.

“The nice thing is that, in the real world I'm actually pretty young,” Vonn said. “I have felt really old for a long time, because I'm racing with girls that are like 15 years younger than me. So now, in the real world, I'm normal. Thirty is the new 20 so I'm super young. I've got a lot to look forward to.”