After long road back, Lindsey Vonn’s bronze medal is as meaningful as her gold

Ed Stoner
Lindsey Vonn wipes her face while speaking at a news conference after winning the bronze medal in the women's downhill at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Jeongseon, South Korea, on Wednesday, Feb. 21.
Christophe Ena | Associated Press | AP

JEONGSEON, South Korea — For Lindsey Vonn, bronze in 2018 is as bright as her gold in 2010.

Not better or worse, just different.

When she won her gold in Vancouver, she was 25 years old — young, healthy and with most of her success in front of her.

Since then, there have been a lot of ups and downs — since 2013, especially, a lot of downs.

The devastating right knee injury at World Championships that ended her 2012-13 season.

The continuing problems with that knee, which quashed her comeback for the 2014 Olympics.

The multiple fractures in her left knee that cut her season short in 2016.

The 2016 right forearm injury that, for a time, left her with no feeling in her arm and forced her to duct tape her pole to her glove.

“When you’re young, you just ski, and you win, and you don’t appreciate things,” she said.

This bronze is not gold, but it is fully appreciated. She didn’t just ski and win. It was earned the hard way — with a full roster of doctors, months of physical therapy, hours upon hours of dryland training. She got a divorce and lost her grandfather.

“I was on top of the world then, and I still feel like I’m on top of the world right now, because I’m out here doing what I love to do,” she said. “I just have a different understanding for life.”

Since crashing out of the Lake Louise downhill season opener, coach Chris Knight and the rest of Vonn’s team have been focused on just getting her to the Olympics in one piece — skipping several races due to injury or for rest.

“We definitely got her here at the Olympics in prime condition,” he said.

Her sisters Karin and Laura spoke of the singular focus, not just over the past few months, but the last two years — even the last eight years.

“Every single meal she’s eaten for the last two years is to build up to this moment,” Karin said.

“Every gym workout,” Laura said.

“Every single day,” Karin said. “Every single thing she’s done every day for the last eight years has been for this day and that two minutes.”

She becomes the oldest Olympic alpine skiing medalist of all time. She’s already the winningest female skier on the World Cup tour.

Gold medalist Sofia Goggia, the other big favorite in the race going into the race, seemed to think she was barely even worthy of trying to describe Vonn’s stature.

“Really?” she asked reporters. “Are you asking me to commentate on the greatest skier? It speaks for herself. She has 140 podiums. Me, I have 20. She has 81 victories. I have four — five with this. She’s unbelievable. She’s the greatest.

Vonn had said she wanted to win the race for her grandfather, Don Kildow, who died in November. After she finished the race, she pointed to the sky.

“I won a bronze,” she said. “I think he would still be proud of me.”

Vonn was set to race again in the alpine combined on Thursday, but she admitted that she only has one day of slalom training since Christmas — it’s too tough on her knees.

Her coach, Knight, said Vonn has an amazing ability to block out pain. Perhaps, after Wednesday’s downhill, the pain had finally caught up with her. She kept saying her body hurts.

The more she talked Wednesday, the more she seemed to be saying goodbye to the Olympics. Since she had arrived at the Olympics, she repeatedly said this would “likely” or “probably” be her last Olympics. By the end of the day Wednesday, she had dropped those qualifiers.

“I love racing in the Olympics,” she said. “I love racing. I love being in the starting gate with so much pressure you feel suffocated. But, somehow, you will yourself to give everything you have, and you throw yourself down the mountain in hopes of a medal. And I’m absolutely going to miss it.

“I wish I could keep skiing, you know,” she continued. “I wish that my body didn’t hurt as bad as it does. But I feel very lucky that I was able to ski my best today and I was able to get on a podium in my last Olympic downhill — that’s something really special.”