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Lindsey Vonn settles for bronze in Olympic downhill

  • Author: Bill Pennington, The New York Times
  • Updated: February 21
  • Published February 21

Gold medalist Sofia Goggia of Italy, silver medalist Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway and bronze medalist Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. on the podium. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — It took eight years, but Lindsey Vonn finally roared across another finish line at the Olympic women's downhill, a moment that was, at once, a rebirth and an ending.

As she did at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Vonn immediately spun her head in the direction of the timing scoreboard. At those Winter Games, Vonn saw her name atop the leaderboard and let loose a resounding scream as she crumpled to the snow, the first American woman to win the event.

But at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, Vonn's scoreboard glance elicited only a tempered, quiet smile and a shrug of the shoulders at her showing, good enough for a bronze. She grinned and pointed across the snow at her friend and the race winner, Sofia Goggia of Italy.

Vonn's life since Vancouver, her last Olympics, has included major knee constructions, multiple broken bones, nerve damage and shredded cartilage.

So it was probably the happiest third-place finish of her storied career.

"I'm not beaten — I won the bronze medal but I feel like I've won the gold medal," said Vonn, 33, who also won a bronze medal in the super-G at the 2010 Winter Games and now becomes the third American Alpine skier to win three Olympic medals. "I'm so thankful to be here and to be on an Olympic podium with the next generation of my sport."

But there was a farewell tone in Vonn's voice as well. Though she will ski in the Alpine combined on Thursday, she will not be a medal favorite. The downhill has always been her signature event, and Vonn was saying goodbye to both a race and a stage that had made her famous.

"I wish I could keep going; I wish this wasn't my last Olympics but it is," she said, adding: "I don't think my body can take another four years of ski racing."

Vonn, whose victory Wednesday made her the oldest woman to win an Alpine Olympic medal, was a childhood idol of Goggia, 25, whose time of 1:39.22 was just 0.09 seconds ahead of the silver medalist, Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway, also 25.

Vonn was 0.38 seconds behind Mowinckel, who last week won the silver medal in the giant slalom.

Goggia has become one of Vonn's biggest rivals in the downhill, which Vonn — when healthy — has largely dominated since the Vancouver Games.

Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. competes. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler

They entered Wednesday's race as favorites for the gold medal. In fact, Vonn chose bib No. 7 so that she could first see how Goggia, who was starting fifth, tactically approached the racecourse.

Goggia came out of the gate slowly and was the 26th fastest — out of 31 racers who finished — in the first timed interval. But Goggia quickly settled into a confident, aggressive stance on her skis, which she repeatedly pressured for more and more speed. By the third interval, Goggia was fifth fastest in the field.

As it turned out, she was just finding her rhythm. By smoothly linking her turns and occasionally taking a more rounded approach to the gates, Goggia kept the flat bases of her skis on the snow surface for longer stretches. The payoff was the fastest time in each of the three final timed intervals.

When Vonn followed two skiers later, she was faster at the start but less fluid in the middle section. Her skis seemed on edge and rattling more often than Goggia's, and after a bit of a miscue coming off the third jump in the course, Vonn trailed Goggia by nearly a half-second. She did not make up the time.

"I was maybe a little too precise with my line but it was a clean run," Vonn said later. "Maybe I should have let the skis run a little more.

"But I didn't ski stiff or nervous," she added.

Vonn had dedicated her performance to her late grandfather, Don Kildow, who had helped teach her to ski. Kildow died in November.

"I desperately wanted to win for him and I wish he could have been here to watch," she said. "But I still think he is watching and I think he'd still be proud of me."

Though not naturally introspective, Vonn seemed eager to use the occasion to reflect on her career.

"I'm really proud of what I've accomplished in four Olympic Games because some of them were pretty difficult," she said.

Vonn was seriously injured in a crash days before the 2006 Olympics, hobbled again by a shin injury just before the Vancouver Games and missed the 2014 Sochi Olympics because of knee surgery.

"I have never thought of quitting," Vonn, who plans to retire after next winter's race season, said after the race. "But the injuries have taken their toll. I've crashed into so many fences."

She smiled.

"I'm on a first-name basis with so many doctors it's ridiculous," she said.

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