Frustration was evident in Lindsey Vonn when she finished her downhill run at the world championships on Sunday, nearly a half-second behind Slovenian winner Ilka Stuhec.
Ninety minutes later, she said her bronze medal felt like gold.
Vonn became the oldest woman to earn a medal at worlds, but it was certainly not the color she planned. Austrian Stephanie Venier took silver in St. Moritz, Switzerland, four tenths behind the pre-race favorite Stuhec. Vonn was .45 back.
“Not bad for an old lady,” Vonn joked.
Full results are here. NBC will air coverage Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET.
“It’s been a difficult season,” Vonn said on Eurosport about 45 minutes after her run, before watching the men’s downhill with Roger Federer in the stands. “I’m very thankful for a medal. Now I have a medal in downhill [at worlds] in every color, pretty damn cool. … All things considered, it was a really great performance.”
There is a lot to consider.
Vonn’s return from major injuries to make the podium (and win on the World Cup) at age 32 is the latest impressive feat in her career, the greatest in women’s Alpine history.
Vonn came to St. Moritz unable to put her hair in a ponytail with her injured right hand, a lingering immobility after breaking her right upper arm in a Nov. 10 training crash. Vonn, who also suffered three knee fractures in a Feb. 27 race crash, called the arm injury the most painful of her career.
She skied out of the opening super-G on Tuesday, struggling to hold onto her right ski pole with that hand. She then taped her glove to her pole for the super combined on Friday, when she finished fifth (but was a disappointing sixth after the downhill portion).
Vonn’s bronze on Sunday meant she repeated her results from the 2015 Worlds at home in Vail, Colorado (albeit mismatching the placements and races). Two years ago, she tearfully said she “didn’t live up to expectations.”
There were no tears in the TV interview Sunday. She played into the joke when 2000 Olympic triple jump champion Jonathan Edwards called her “the most matured” women’s medalist in worlds history.
“Yes, I am old,” she said after a laugh. “Actually, it’s a fun position to be in. A lot of these girls, they’re babies. It’s cool. A lot of them look to me for advice. Being a veteran, it’s not that bad. I know what I’m doing.”
Vonn’s medal is the first for the U.S. at these worlds. So far it has been the worst performance for the American team at worlds since 1999, when they went medal-less as host in Vail. It is a reminder of the lack of young talent besides World Cup overall leader Mikaela Shiffrin, who starts Thursday in the giant slalom and Saturday in the slalom in St. Moritz.
Bode Miller hasn’t raced in two years and may never again. He’s commentating for NBC in St. Moritz. Ted Ligety is out for the season due to back surgery after requiring knee surgery last year. Julia Mancuso was on the worlds team but will not race in St. Moritz, still not ready to come back from November 2015 hip surgery.
Miller, Ligety and Mancuso are all older than Vonn.
Vonn will reset her sights on the World Cup tour with two downhills left this season on March 4 and March 15. The biggest remaining goal of her career is to snatch the record for World Cup victories. She has 77. Only Swede Ingemar Stenmark has more with 86.
Vonn returned from the arm injury four weeks ago, and with little training, won her second race. However, her other four World Cup results were a ninth, 12th, 13th and a DNF.
“Nothing has been easy for me the last five years,” said Vonn, who missed the Sochi Olympics due to knee surgery. “No matter what obstacle I face, I feel like I can overcome it.”
With Vonn largely out, the 26-year-old Stuhec has been the phenom of the World Cup season, winning the first three downhills and tacking on super-G and super combined victories for good measure. Her ski technician is her mom.
It took the 2007 and 2008 World junior champion 113 World Cup starts to notch her first podium this season. Now, Stuhec is unquestionably the world’s best downhiller. It’s on Vonn to reclaim that crown in one year in PyeongChang.
“My way here was not easy at all,” said Stuhec, who bowed and rested her arms on the podium before climbing onto the top step and then cried during her national anthem. “Now, I say to myself, I’m a world champion. It’s really something big.”Follow @nzaccardi