Even with all the injuries and hardships, Lindsey Vonn's legacy is secure: Best female skier. Ever.
United States' Lindsey Vonn stands in the mixed zone after the women's combined at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Jeongseon, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Pyeongchang, South Korea • The terms are hers, and she’s lucky. She’s calling the shots, even in the twilight of a legendary career not yet finished.
Lindsey Vonn is phrasing everything carefully, too. She’s not saying it’s over forever, only that it very well likely is, at least on the Olympic stage. All the greats give themselves at least a little bit of wiggle room should they decide to keep going.
At 33, the American alpine ski star leaves these 2018 Olympic Winter Games with a bronze medal in the women’s downhill. Now a three-time Olympic medalist, Vonn spoke glowingly of the Olympic experience she’s had four times over.
“When you’re older you have a different appreciation for life and the experiences you’ve had,” she said. “I greatly appreciate my team, everyone who helped get me here, my friends and family. It’s been a great ride.”
No, Vonn received no storybook ending. She skied out early in the women’s combined slalom, taking her out of the running for a medal in what was possibly the end of her Olympic career.
“That’s skiing,” she said.
And she’s done it better than most ever have before.
While some might judge her on the amount of Olympic medals she has to her name, Vonn has her sights set on something larger. She told reporters Thursday her goal remains breaking the World Cup record for wins, held by Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden. Right now she’s at 81, unquestionably the all-time greatest female skier, also a two-time world champion.
All that’s left? Five more to tie the legendary Swede and six to top him.
Vonn won’t stop until, she said, until she gets that record. She’ll have to battle through the pain of a lifetime of serious injuries still piling up. That’s life at racing down a mountain of ice faster than most drive on a highway. She’s no longer in a position to train physically like the other younger ski racers, she said.
Months before the 2014 Games in Sochi, Vonn suffered a torn ACL, MCL and a tibial fracture that kept her out of the Olympics. Her right knee has been a continuous issue her career; she’s suffered two torn ACLs in that knee alone. She’s fractured her arm, her wrist, her thumb, pinkie finger, ankle.
“It’s all made me who I am, made me a stronger person and helps make you appreciate every opportunity you have,” she said. “I’ve been on the fence so many times. I know so many doctors on a first-name basis, it’s ridiculous.”
While the 2014 Olympics went on without her, Vonn was home watching on the couch, vowing that wouldn’t be the final chapter of her time as an Olympian. She was all smiles after not finishing in the alpine combined slalom, no wave of emotion dealt with. That was the day before, when she won bronze.
“I think I got all the tears out,” she said. “I couldn’t stop crying all day … and it’s for a reason. I’d worked so hard. To come away with a bronze may have been disappointing for some but for me it was amazing. I’ll probably cry later on but think I’m all tapped out right now.”
After her bronze, Vonn’s sisters, Karin and Laura Kildow, spoke about the trials she’s gone through, especially during this past Olympic cycle.
“It was a lot of build-up, so much pressure,” Karin Kildow said. “We’re really proud of her no matter what she did or does. We’re always so proud of her. She works so hard.”
Vonn’s sister went along with the theme of these Games, too, hinting that maybe, possibly, the door will remain cracked for 2022.
“Never say last with Lindsey,” Laura Kildow said, “but most likely.”