JEONGSEON, South Korea -- On the eve of the women’s downhill race at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, Lindsey Vonn said, “It’s all or nothing — same as super-G — I’m just going to give it all I have.”
Running bib 7, Vonn’s “all” was good enough for bronze.
With a time of 1:39.69, she came in 0.47 seconds behind Italy’s Sofia Goggia. Twelve racers later, Vonn was knocked down to the bronze-medal position by Ragnhild Mowinckel from Norway, who clocked 1:39.31 from the 19th starting position. Mowinckel also won the silver medal in the giant slalom last week.
“I am so thankful to be here and be on the podium in what’s most likely my last Olympic downhill race,” said Vonn, a four-time Olympian who was emotional after the race. “It is so difficult to be on the podium in the Olympics, and I’m really proud to have another medal and to be on the podium with the next generation of the sport.”
Both Goggia and Mowinkel are 25 years old, the same age as Vonn when she won the Olympic downhill gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010.
Vonn wanted to win on Wednesday for her grandfather, who passed away in November. But she felt like he would have been proud of her with the bronze.
Alice McKennis, who finished third in one of the training runs, finished just off the podium in fifth. It was her first time in the top 10 since her one and only world cup win in 2013.
“It’s amazing,” said McKennis, who battled back from two broken tibial plateau injuries and a broken elbow. “I never in my wildest dreams thought I could do so well in such a big event. A year ago I didn’t even think I’d be ski racing. To be here and ski the way I did today and have this run is really amazing.”
In her first Olympics, Breezy Johnson finished seventh, and two-time Olympian Laurenne Ross, who tore her ACL last March, was 15th.
For Vonn, the bronze medal felt like a win. Since she won her Olympic downhill gold medal in 2010, her life has changed.
“I was on top of the world then,” she said.
But then in 2013, she suffered a devastating crash at the world championships. She had two ACL surgeries that year — the second which caused her to miss the 2014 Games in Sochi. Then in November 2016, she broke her upper right arm so badly that she now has a rod and multiple screws holding the humerus bone together.
Vonn fought to come back each time — with the goal of breaking Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 world cup wins. And with the goal of winning another Olympic medal.
“I was thinking of it this morning, and I was thinking, every single meal she’s eaten for the last two years is to build up to this moment,” said her sister Karin Kildow.
“Every single gym workout,” continued her other sister, Laura Kildow. “You don’t realize the amount of every single thing she’s done. Every day for the last eight years has been for this day and that two minutes.”
Since the Sochi Games, Vonn has won three more world cup titles — two in downhill, one in super-G — to bring her crystal globe collection to 20. Crystal globes are awarded to overall world cup winners and to those who win discipline titles each season. Vonn’s collection is displayed over her fireplace at home in Vail, Colorado.
After the arm surgery in November 2016, Vonn was back in the starting gate in January 2017. She won one downhill that season and claimed her seventh world championship medal — a bronze in downhill.
This season, Vonn has won five races, including the two downhills in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, the weekend before the Olympics started. She now has 81 world cup wins. It was the momentum that she needed to boost her confidence.
But it was also the fuel that Goggia needed. In the Garmisch downhills, the Italian finished in second behind Vonn in both races — first by 0.11 seconds, then by 0.02 seconds.
“After the second race in Garmisch, I saw those hundredths, and I said to the camera, ‘Korea, Korea,’” said Goggia, who was thrilled to have the Olympic downhill gold medal.
Goggia got Vonn by almost a half-second on the Jeongseon course at the PyeongChang Games. When Vonn crossed the finish line and saw the ‘2’ by her name, she pointed at Goggia.
“She pointed at me like ‘you again,’” said Goggia with a laugh.
But the American hugged Goggia and was happy. Vonn had executed her line, perhaps a touch too perfectly, she thought.
“Maybe I should have let the skis run a little bit more,” Vonn said. “But I didn’t make any mistakes, wasn’t stiff, I wasn’t nervous. I laid it all on the line, and that’s all I can do. I’ll look at the video, but I’m happy with what I did.”
Her coach, Chris Knight, thought she made a couple of uncharacteristic bobbles during her run but was happy she walked away with her third Olympic medal.
“Any medal is good at the Olympics for sure,” he said. “You cannot be disappointed with a medal.”
Particularly after the journey that Vonn has had since 2013.
“The crashes, the comebacks from the injuries, she’s an incredible fighter,” added Knight. “It would be a fairy-tale ending to have a gold medal on top of all those crashes and comebacks. But it’s not always fairy-tales. And bronze medal, you’ve got to take it and put it in the bank and go home with it and be happy.”
Knight noted that getting a healthy Vonn to the 2018 Olympics was “half the battle.” She suffered a heavy fall in the first downhill of the season in Lake Louise, Alberta.
Vonn’s downhill bronze medal helped ease the sting of finishing tied for sixth in the Olympic super-G race four days ago.
“I stand strong, and I am proud of what I represent and who I am,” she said. “And I’m very proud to hold the American flag on the podium. All Americans deserve to hold the flag and to be proud of their country, no matter their beliefs because that’s what makes America great."
“So I’m not beaten. I’m standing on the podium, and to me I feel like I won a gold medal.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games, PyeongChang is her fifth. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.
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