Lindsey Vonn to retire after world championships

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Lindsey Vonn transcended her sport in a way only a handful of Olympic athletes could even imagine. She was about more than skiing. She was about more than medals. She was about more than winning.

She was often in the spotlight, appearing in the pages of mainstream and sports magazines, walking the red carpets, mingling with A-list celebrities and dating high-profile sports figures.

The record-setting racer who grew up in Minnesota, then relocated to Colorado, became a household name in mountain towns and big cities — to people who knew a lot about racing and those who only tuned in every four years.

But now, conceding her body is “broken beyond repair,” Vonn is nearing the finish line for the final time. The woman who won more World Cup races than any other female is calling it quits at 34. On Friday, she said she’ll retire after the world championships this month.

“She’s accomplished so many things and has overcome so much adversity in her life, with her injuries, and comebacks, and setbacks and comebacks,” U.S. Ski and Snowboard CEO Tiger Shaw said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “Very few people can focus and train as hard as she does. We’re all in awe of what she’s accomplished in her career.”

Vonn’s original plan was to step away in December, after one final charge down the course in Lake Louise, Alberta — a course she won on so often it’s now named in her honor.

She was forced to move up her retirement due to persistent pain in both knees, which she fully realized after failing to finish a race in Cortina d’Ampezzo , Italy, last month.

Now, she’s down to two races: The women’s super-G on Tuesday in the Swedish resort of Are, and the downhill scheduled for Feb. 10.

The Worlds open with the women’s super-G on Tuesday (6:25 a.m. ET). It can be watched live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

The women’s downhill is scheduled for Feb. 10 at 6:25 a.m. It can be watched live on Olympic Channel (Home of Team USA) and NBC Sports Gold and will be shown at 3 p.m. ET on NBC and at 10:30 p.m. on NBCSN.

That’s it. That’s all her knees have left.

“My body is broken beyond repair and it isn’t letting me have the final season I dreamed of,” Vonn wrote on Instagram . “My body is screaming at me to STOP and it’s time for me to listen.

“It’s been an emotional 2 weeks making the hardest decision of my life,” she wrote, “but I have accepted that I cannot continue ski racing.”

Vonn’s impressive resume: three Olympic medals, including downhill gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Four overall World Cup titles. And 82 World Cup wins, leaving her four behind the all-time mark held by Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden.

Her off-the-slopes portfolio includes: Appearing in the pages of everything from Vogue to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, earning sponsorship deals with companies such as Red Bull, meeting actors like Dwayne Johnson and even being an extra on one of her favorite shows, “Law & Order.” The spotlight only increased when she dated golfer Tiger Woods. She’s now seeing Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban .

She’s big on social media, with 1.6 million Instagram followers.

A recent post from Vonn was cryptic in nature and yet all-too-insightful as she quoted the French philosopher Voltaire: “Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.”

Translation: She simply had no more cards to play. Her aching knees and beat-up body finally applied the brakes to her hard-charging ways.

Vonn’s right knee is permanently damaged from previous crashes. She has torn ACLs, suffered fractures near her left knee, broke her ankle, sliced her right thumb and had several concussions — to name a few. She’s limited to about three runs per day, and her body just can’t handle the workload of other skiers.

“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, 3 Olympic medals, 7 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!”

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 Lindsey Kildow then, before changing her name to Vonn after marrying her now ex-husband and ex-coach, Thomas.

Her first World Cup win came four years later, in a downhill event at Lake Louise.

Retiring in Sweden brings Vonn full circle. She won her first two major championship medals — two silvers — at the 2007 worlds in Are.

As for how she will be remembered , that’s simple for U.S. coach Paul Kristofic: Her comebacks.

“That never-give-up attitude is something that everyone can take away from,” Kristofic said. “She has created that character and lived it. Those are life lessons that everybody can take. Give it your all and never give up. That’s a very strong legacy.”

 

Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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