High winds caused organizers to shorten the women’s downhill course at the world championships in Are, Sweden, the site of the final race in the historic career of the U.S.’ Lindsey Vonn.
The short course was thought to be a plus for Vonn’s curtain call. In Are, Vonn has been know to run into trouble in the upper section of the downhill.
Skiing third, Vonn stood in the gate, her right leg twitching with adrenaline. Leading up to her final race, Vonn had stated she would come out with “guns blazing,” and she did.
Vonn picked up time on the leader throughout her run, starting off .023 seconds back at the first split, but by the time she crossed the finish line Vonn had taken the lead by .033 seconds.
“I laid it all on the line and that’s all I wanted to do today. I have to admit I was a bit nervous,” Vonn said after the race. “Probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I wanted to finish strong so badly and I had a really hard time controlling my nerves and I never have a hard time with that.
“I’m just happy I made it to the finish and I came down in the lead, which is nice for my last race and I’m also safe. I made it down safely. My boyfriend and my family are happy.”
NBC Sports’ Steve Porino said he had spoken to Vonn’s father Alan Kildow in Are before the start of the race. Kildow told Porino he had never been nervous before a race, but knowing how his daughter would attack the course, his only hope was for her to get to the bottom in one piece.
“She has been business as usual this whole week, saying I’m racing to win,” said Karin Kildow, Vonn’s sister, according to the Associated Press. “I was like, ‘Just maybe make it down and maybe stand up.’ But she was like, ‘No, I’m going full out’. She was definitely in the mindset to push it and she really did.”
Waiting for Vonn at the finish was the man who has won more Alpine skiing races than anyone in history, Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark. Vonn pleaded with Stenmark via text to come to her final race.
“Ingemar being in the finish area was literally the best thing that ever happened in my life,” Vonn told NBC Sports.
Stenmark greeted Vonn with a giant bouquet of flowers.
Fittingly, Vonn was able to sit in the leader’s chair on her final day of racing. Vonn held the top spot through five skiers, then Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec, the reigning downhill world champion, dropped in for her run, crossing the finish line .49 hundredths of a second faster than Vonn.
Vonn clung to second place for ten more skiers, then Switzerland’s Corinne Suter posted the second fastest time of the day, bumping Vonn to third, where she would stay to win the bronze.
“It really helped me to start lower down,” Vonn said according to the Associated Press. “The upper section was a bit bumpy and with my knee it’s really hard on the body. I knew I had a good chance and thankfully right before I went, exact opposite of the super-G, the sun came out. I was like, this is it. This is my day. I just charged. I gave it everything I have like always. I put the nerves aside and just enjoyed it. I love going fast. It was a perfect day for downhill.”
Back on February 1, Vonn announced on Instagram that the super-G and downhill in Are will be the last races of her career.
“My body is broken beyond repair and it isn’t letting me have the final season I dreamed of,” Vonn wrote. “My body is screaming at me to STOP and it’s time for me to listen.”
The fact that Vonn’s final race comes in Are conjures up some bittersweet memories. In 2007, Vonn won her first world championship medals there — silver in both the super-G and downhill. The flip side is after winning those medals, Vonn suffered her first major injury, a season-ending ACL sprain caused by a crash in slalom training.
Vonn will end her career with 82 World Cup wins, the most ever by a woman, 2 world championship wins and three Olympic medals – including downhill gold in 2010.