Vail’s Lindsey Vonn improbably stood on top of a podium in her final ski race on Sunday, coming back from multiple injuries to win a bronze medal in downhill at the 2019 World Alpine Ski Championships in Are, Sweden.
Already the oldest woman to win Olympic and world championship medals, Vonn, 34, is retiring from the sport with eight total championship medals and three Olympic medals to go along with her women’s record of 82 World Cup wins and American record of four overall titles.
Vonn mastered the course shortened due to weather and took advantage of a burst of sun to turn in the third-best time on the day behind gold medalist Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia with a time of 1 minute, 1.74 seconds and silver medalist Corinne Suter of Switzerland, who was .23 seconds back. Vonn wound up third, .49 seconds behind Stuhec.
Racing in her eighth and final world championships (including a bronze at the 2015 worlds in Beaver Creek), the East Vail resident was greeted in the finish area by the all-time men’s winner, Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden.
“Ingemar being in the finish area was literally the best thing that’s ever happened in my life,” Vonn said on NBC. “It means everything to me. He’s kind of a shy guy but I pulled him into the spotlight because he deserves it, and it’s an honor to be in the finish with him and to have my last race in front of him. He’s really the greatest of all time.”
Stenmark, who dominated giant slalom and slalom in the 1970s and 80s, agreed to attend after multiple texts from Vonn, who had hoped to surpass Stenmark’s record of 86 wins but finally realized her knees would not cooperate.
“I am very impressed about Lindsey that she skis so good and can come back after many injuries.” Stenmark said after giving Vonn a hug in the finish. “It’s impressive.”
Asked if this was the storybook ending the greatest female ski racer of all time was hoping for, Vonn laughed and said, “As long as I stay on the podium.” The race was still in progress, but no other skiers were able to bump her out of the top three.
“I’m just happy – happy to finish strong. I’m happy that there’s so many people here, especially the people that I love,” Vonn said. “I wish my mom and my brother and my sister could be here but half the family is here, so that’s good. I soaked it all in and waved to the crowd one last time.”