Athletes don’t often write the scripts for the end of their careers. For many, the finish is abrupt, more a slap across the face than a moment of supreme satisfaction.
Lindsey Vonn, the greatest female ski racer in American history and possibly ever, grappled with that reality at the PyeongChang Games after winning a bronze medal in Alpine downhill, her best shot for a second gold medal. But this isn’t the Vonn of 2010 in Vancouver. This Lindsey Vonn is 33 and has been battered, her bones broken, her ligaments torn by the crashes and wear and tear of her sport.
On Tuesday night, the approaching end — coupled with the death of her grandfather in November at the age of 88 — overwhelmed her in a post-race interview with NBC.
“It’s been really hard for me not to get emotional for so many reasons, especially because of my grandfather,” she said as she began to cry. “I wanted to win so much because of him.” she said, “but I still think I made him proud. Our family never gives up, and I never gave up. I kept working hard, and I am really proud of this medal, and I know he is, too.”
Vonn had dedicated these Olympics to Don Kildow, who was responsible for getting her father and her skiing.
“I want so badly to do well for him,” a tearful Vonn said just before the Olympics began. “I miss him so much. He’s been such a big part of my life, and I really hoped that he would be alive to see me. But I know he’s watching, and I know that he’s going to help me, and I’m going to win for him.”
She has one more chance in these Olympics. After that, well, who knows? Vonn has admitted that she coaxed a lot out of her body. She has a rod in one arm, missed the 2014 Olympics because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament, hurt her back and has other assorted injuries. Getting to PyeongChang required intense dedication.
“Every single meal she’s eaten for the last two years is to build up to this moment,” Karin Kildow, one of her younger sisters, told The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga. “Every single gym workout. . . . Every single thing she’s done every day for the last eight years has been for this day and those two minutes.”
Vonn will move on to Alpine combined, an event that includes downhill and slalom and one in which she is not considered likely to medal, Thursday morning. She admitted after winning bronze that her body “probably can’t take another four years” and described a mixture of sadness and pride. “This is for you Grandpa” she wrote on Instagram, and she mixed humor with reflection on Twitter.
“Today I won a bronze medal that felt like gold,” she wrote. “It was an amazing day that I will never forget. Thank you to everyone who supported me and helped me get to this point. Love you all.”
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