Her Knees ‘broken Beyond Repair,’ Vonn Retiring After Worlds

February 1, 2019 Updated: February 1, 2019

Lindsey Vonn has only two races remaining on her aching knees.

The women’s all-time leader in World Cup wins announced on Feb. 1, she will retire from ski racing after this month’s world championships in Sweden.

The 34-year-old Vonn had been planning to retire in December but changed her plans because of persistent pain in both of her knees, which she fully realized after failing to finish a race in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, last month

“It’s been an emotional 2 weeks making the hardest decision of my life, but I have accepted that I cannot continue ski racing,” Vonn wrote on Instagram. “I will compete at the World Championships in Downhill and SG (super-G) next week in Are, Sweden and they will be the final races of my career.”

The worlds open with the women’s super-G on Tuesday in the Swedish resort of Are. The women’s downhill is scheduled for Feb. 10.

 

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It’s been an emotional 2 weeks making the hardest decision of my life, but I have accepted that I cannot continue ski racing. I will compete at the World Championships in Downhill and SG next week in Åre, Sweden and they will be the final races of my career. I have always pushed the limits of ski racing and it has allowed me to have amazing success but also dramatic crashes. I have never wanted the storyline of my career to be about injuries and because of that I decided not to tell anyone that I underwent surgery this past spring. A large portion of cartilage that had delaminated from my bone was removed. My crash in Lake Louise last year was much more painful than I let on, but I continued to race because I wanted to win a medal in the Olympics for my late grandfather. Again, I rehabbed my way back this summer and I felt better than I had in a long time. Then I crashed in Copper this November and injured my left knee, tearing my LCL plus sustaining 3 fractures. Despite extensive therapy, training and a knee brace, I am not able make the turns necessary to compete the way I know I can. My body is broken beyond repair and it isn’t letting me have the final season I dreamed of. My body is screaming at me to STOP and it’s time for me to listen. Honestly, retiring isn’t what upsets me. Retiring without reaching my goal is what will stay with me forever. However, I can look back at 82 World Cup wins, 20 World Cup titles, 3 Olympic medals, 7 World Championship medals and say that I have accomplished something that no other woman in HISTORY has ever done, and that is something that I will be proud of FOREVER! I always say, “Never give up!” So to all the the kids out there, to my fans who have sent me messages of encouragement to keep going… I need to tell you that I’m not giving up! I’m just starting a new chapter. Don’t lose faith in your dreams, keep fighting for what you love, and if you always give everything you have you’ll be happy no matter what the outcome. Thank you for the amazing years, for always supporting me, and for making my job so fun. Can’t wait to see some of you in the finish in Åre where I will give it my all one last time. Love always, Lindsey

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Vonn’s right knee is permanently damaged from previous crashes. The American has also torn ACLs, suffered fractures near her left knee, broken her ankle, sliced her right thumb, had a concussion and more. She’s limited to about three runs per day, and her aching body can’t handle the workload of other skiers.

“My body is broken beyond repair and it isn’t letting me have the final season I dreamed of,” Vonn said. “My body is screaming at me to STOP and it’s time for me to listen.”

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Lindsey Vonn grimaces in pain after getting to the finish area of the women’s World Cup super-G ski race in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on Dec. 9, 2017. (Giovanni Auletta/AP Photo)

With 82 World Cup wins, Vonn will not be able to match the overall record of 86 by Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark. And she won’t be able to compete against male skiers, which had been her stated goal for years.

“Honestly, retiring isn’t what upsets me. Retiring without reaching my goal is what will stay with me forever,” Vonn said. “However, I can look back at 82 World Cup wins, 20 World Cup titles, 3 Olympic medals, 7 World Championship medals and say that I have accomplished something that no other woman in HISTORY has ever done, and that is something that I will be proud of FOREVER!”

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Lindsey Vonn, of the United States, poses in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, with all the Olympic medals and Women’s World Cup trophies she won in her career on March 13, 2010. (Giovanni Auletta/AP Photo)

Tiger Shaw, the president and CEO of U.S. Ski and Snowboard, wrote on Twitter that Vonn “will be celebrated as not only the greatest US female skier of all time, but as an athlete who has inspired people around the world, both in and out of the sport of ski racing, for many years.”

U.S. coach Paul Kristofic said Vonn should be remembered for the way she bounced back from so many injuries and kept winning.

“That never-give-up attitude is something that everyone can take away from,” Kristofic told The Associated Press. “She has created that character and lived it. Those are life lessons that everybody can take. Give it your all and never give up. That’s a very strong legacy.

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Bronze medalist Lindsey Vonn of the United States hold the Stars and Stripes during the flower ceremony for the Women’s super-G at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia. (Gero Breloer/AP Photo)

Vonn Celebrates a Medal at  the 2010 Vancouver Games

“It’s been a real honor to be able to spend some time with her on the hill and help her through a few things.”

In her announcement, Vonn made public for the first time that she had yet another surgery on her right knee following last season.

“A large portion of cartilage that had delaminated from my bone was removed,” Vonn said, without specifying which bone. “My crash in Lake Louise last year was much more painful than I let on, but I continued to race because I wanted to win a medal in the Olympics for my late grandfather.”

Vonn achieved that goal by winning a bronze medal in downhill at the Pyeongchang Games.

But then she crashed again during training in Copper Mountain, Colorado, in November, and tore the lateral collateral ligament and sustained three fractures in her left knee.

“Despite extensive therapy, training and a knee brace, I am not able make the turns necessary to compete the way I know I can,” Vonn said.

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United States’ Lindsey Vonn hugs a US team staffer in the finish area of an alpine ski, women’s World Cup super-G in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy, on Jan. 20, 2019. (Andrea Solero/ANSA via AP)

Retiring in Sweden Brings Vonn Full Circle

She won her first two major championship medals—two silvers—at the 2007 worlds in Are. Vonn has also won seven World Cup races at the Swedish resort, including two giant slaloms, and has 12 podiums overall there.

At last season’s World Cup Finals in Are, Vonn won the downhill and finished third in the super-G.

So broken knees and all, nobody will be counting Vonn out as a contender in her final races.

“Can’t wait to see some of you in the finish in Are,” she said, “where I will give it my all one last time.”

Added Kristofic, “She is going to give … the maximum of what her capacity is right now. And that can be a very strong performance, too.”

By Andrew Dampf

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