In late November, Lindsey Vonn said that a recent knee injury had her changing her retirement plans: Instead of walking away in March, after the 2018-19 World Cup season ended, she wanted to return for at least the start of the following season, to compete at a beloved event she had just been forced to miss.
However, after her knees let her down again while racing Sunday in Italy, Vonn indicated that she might just retire right away. The 82-time World Cup event winner, a record for women and just four short of Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time mark, told Swiss TV (via the AP), “It’s time to listen to my body and it’s time to say goodbye.”
Vonn failed to finish her run Sunday in the World Cup super-G at Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy, after getting off to start that put her in position for a podium spot. When she began to lose her line, she clipped a gate and it was evident that her surgically repaired right knee would not allow her to apply enough force to get back on track. She missed the next gate and was forced to abandon the run and ski off the course.
The 34-year-old American star subsequently told reporters that there was “a possibility” that she might have competed for the last time, but she noted that she was too “emotional” to make any firm decision at that point. “I have to really think clearly about that,” said Vonn, who has had to deal with several major knee injuries during her career. “It’s not a decision I make lightly or quickly.”
“I’ve had four surgeries on my right knee. I’ve got no LCL [lateral collateral ligament] on my left knee. I’ve got two braces on. There’s only so much I can handle and I might have reached my maximum,” Vonn added. “I’m not sure. I’ve got to take a couple days’ time and really think about things.”
Widely regarded as the greatest women’s skier in World Cup history, Vonn has won three Olympic medals, including the 2010 gold in the downhill, and she has won four overall World Cup titles. She had said that chasing Stenmark’s record was the final goal she wanted to achieve in her sport, but on Sunday she described her own physical condition as an obstacle possibly too great to overcome.
“I’m not able to ski the way I want to — the way I know I can,” she said. “I’m just really inhibited with my body. My body is inhibiting me from doing what I want to do.”
As fate, and boundless talent, would have it, Sunday’s super-G was won by Mikaela Shiffrin, a 23-year-old American who is already well on her way to potentially superseding Vonn’s achievements. It was Shiffrin’s 54th World Cup victory, good for a sixth-place tie on the all-time list with Austrian legend Hermann Maier, and the timing of the accomplishment, given Vonn’s result and comments, was not lost on anyone.
“You can make what you want of it,” said Shiffrin, who idolized Vonn as youngster. “Because I won it, and it’s her last race, I don’t necessarily think there’s some incredible connection on that, but I do think that it must be incredibly emotional for her to be in her final season.”
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