Lindsey’s last ski
Vail’s own Lindsey Vonn, the greatest female ski racer in history with 82 World Cup wins, is calling it a career after two more races on her aching, surgically-repaired knees. Vonn, who cut her teeth as a young ski racer for Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, announced Friday that she will retire from ski racing after this month’s World Championships in Sweden.
Vonn, 34, had been planning to retire in December but changed her plans because of persistent pain in both of her knees, which she fully realized after failing to finish a race in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, last month.
“It’s been an emotional two weeks making the hardest decision of my life, but I have accepted that I cannot continue ski racing,” Vonn wrote on Instagram. “I will compete at the World Championships in Downhill and SG (super-G) next week in Are, Sweden, and they will be the final races of my career.”
The Worlds open with the women’s super-G on Tuesday in the Swedish resort of Are. The women’s downhill is scheduled for Feb. 10.
John Dakin, the vice president of communications with the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame, called Vonn “the toughest competitor I’ve ever met in 40-plus years of being involved in ski racing.”
“The hardest thing for an elite athlete to do is to know when it’s time to go,” he said. “I can appreciate the agony that Lindsey experienced in coming to this decision.”
Tom Boyd, the director of PR and communications at the Vail Valley Foundation, which hosts the annual Birds of Prey World Cup races at Beaver Creek in December, may have written the first local newspaper story about the teenaged Lindsey Kildow when she was racing for SSCV. He’s covered and followed her career ever since.
“She’s one of the most incredible human beings I’ve ever worked with, and one of the most incredible athletes I’ve ever worked with,” Boyd said. “What she’s done for the town and the community is priceless. She put us in the global spotlight.”
Boyd said Vonn should be considered the greatest American ski racer, and one of the best of all time.
“She’ll be remembered as long as there’s ski racing — she was just dominant.”
What made Vonn special is an almost impossible combination of talent and spirit, he said.
“It’s extremely rare to see that kind of athletic ability,” he said. “You pair that ability with an indominatable spirit, and that’s when you get greatness.”
Dakin said Vonn was the rare World Cup ski racer to become a crossover star in the United States.
“Besides being the consummate competitor, she has done what few others have accomplished — taking ski racing to the mainstream, be it on the red carpet, television, magazines, talk shows and books,” Dakin said. “Lots more people knew about Lindsey Vonn than know about world championship ski racing.”
Dakin also said Vonn was a tremendous role model for young people, boys and girls alike.
“She showed every day that if you set goals and work hard, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to,” Dakin said.
In the statement announcing her retirement, Vonn cited her “broken-beyond-repair” knees. Boyd said the pain she’s experiencing is hard to imagine.
“I’ve seen her push through multiple injuries,” he said. “She’s put herself through a ton.”
Boyd said Vonn has been an inspiration, both on and off the slopes.
“She’s done so much to inspire and empower the young women of our community and the world — that’s to be commended,” he said.
Vonn’s right knee is permanently damaged from previous crashes. The American has also torn ACLs, suffered fractures near her left knee, broken her ankle, sliced her right thumb, had a concussion and more. She’s limited now to about three runs per day, and her aching body can’t handle the workload of other skiers.
“My body is broken beyond repair and it isn’t letting me have the final season I dreamed of,” Vonn said. “My body is screaming at me to stop and it’s time for me to listen.”
However, with 82 World Cup wins, Vonn will not be able to match the overall record of 86 held by Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark.
“Honestly, retiring isn’t what upsets me. Retiring without reaching my goal is what will stay with me forever,” Vonn said.
“However, I can look back at 82 World Cup wins, 20 World Cup titles, three Olympic medals, seven World Championship medals and say that I have accomplished something that no other woman in history has ever done, and that is something that I will be proud of forever!”
In her announcement, Vonn also made public for the first time that she had surgery following last season.
“A large portion of cartilage that had delaminated from my bone was removed,” Vonn said, without specifying which bone. “My crash in Lake Louise last year was much more painful than I let on, but I continued to race because I wanted to win a medal in the Olympics for my late grandfather.”
Vonn achieved that goal by winning a bronze medal in downhill at last year’s Pyeongchang Games.
But then she crashed again during training at Copper Mountain Resort in November, and tore the lateral collateral ligament and sustained three fractures in her left knee.
“Despite extensive therapy, training and a knee brace, I am not able make the turns necessary to compete the way I know I can,” Vonn said.
Retiring in Sweden brings Vonn full circle.
She won the first two major championship medals of her career — two silvers — at the 2007 Worlds in Are. Vonn has also won seven World Cup races at the Swedish resort, including two giant slaloms, and has 12 podiums overall there.
At last season’s World Cup finals in Are, Vonn won the downhill and finished third in the super-G.
So broken knees and all, nobody will be counting Vonn out as a contender in her final races.
“Can’t wait to see some of you in the finish in Are,” she said, “where I will give it my all one last time.”
Editor Nate Peterson contributed.
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