Vonn gone from Olympics? Don’t bank on it

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Lindsey Vonn’s bronze medal run in Wednesday’s downhill was billed as her final bid for Olympic gold in the sport’s marquee event but those who know her best say they wouldn’t rule out a fifth attempt in Beijing in 2022.

“Never say last with Lindsey,” her sister Laura Kildow said when asked by Reuters whether the skier would have been happy with bronze in her last race.

Her other sister Karin Kildow quickly jumped in: “Never say never,” before adding her preferred choice of language: “Most likely last”.

Vonn herself has pointedly referred to Pyeongchang as “probably” her last Olympics and she used the same language after her race at the Joengseon Alpine Centre, where Italian Sofia Goggia won gold.

“It has been an emotional day all round because it’s probably my last Olympic downhill race but I’m on the podium so I’m very happy,” she said.

A source with knowledge of Vonn’s thinking said that her use of such language was no accident.

The reluctance to talk of a definitive end to her Olympic career reflected her understanding that even though she would be 37 when Beijing comes around, there is no need to rule herself out at this stage.

And Vonn has been clear that the only obstacle to her extending her career is the state of her knees.

On the eve of her downhill run, she said: “I love what I do. I have so much fun going fast and pushing myself to the limit on downhill skis there is nothing else I would rather do.

“So if I could physically continue skiing then I absolutely will. But at this point, it takes a lot to make my knee good enough to ski downhill, it has to be pretty solid to push yourself at these speeds and be able to trust it.

“I am just counting on some medical miracles to extend my career,” she added.

So Vonn certainly isn’t hanging up her skis just yet and she has plenty of plans, starting with a run in Thursday’s Alpine combined.

The Minnesota-born skier has been clear that her next goal after Pyeongchang is to beat Swede Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 race wins on the World Cup circuit.

Vonn currently has 81 World Cup triumphs and to get the six more she needs to become the most successful skier of all-time could well take her more than a single season. She won four races in 2018.

She also has expressed a strong desire to race in a men’s event–probably at Lake Louise at the start of next season–which would rule her out of the women’s event she has won 18 times and extend the process of reaching Stenmark’s record.

That could take her, perhaps, two seasons and it is then, in 2020 that she is likely to make a definitive decision on Beijing.

If she is still capable of winning and her knees are holding up, would Vonn really turn down the chance of one final push at the Games she loves so much?

“I bet she’ll be there,” said team mate Breezy Johnson. “She won’t necessarily be competing but she’ll still be there.”

American women ponder life beyond Vonn

America’s women Alpine ski team acknowledged there will be a void when all-time great Vonn eventually leaves the sport but pointed to Wednesday’s downhill results in Pyeongchang Games as proof they can contend for podiums for years to come.

Under clear blue skies at the Jeongseon Alpine Center, the Americans ended with three racers in the top 10, including Alice McKennis’ fifth place finish and Breezy Johnson’s seventh.

Vonn, the most accomplished female skier in the sport’s history, praised her teammates after the race.

“I’m so proud to have competed with such amazing girls,” the 33-year-old said.

“We help each other. Most of us have been injured pretty severely and I’m so proud and happy to have been training with them. It’s been fun,” she said.

While Vonn’s eventual departure would be a loss to the team it would not be the first time the U.S. would have to say goodbye to key athletes, Johnson said.

“She has led this team but this team is built on the many great female downhillers that have come before,” she said, citing retired American gold medalists Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso.

“We hope to continue that legacy and we hope to continue to build an amazing team.”

U.S. women’s ski team speed coach Chip White said he was upbeat following Wednesday’s race.

“The future is bright. Lindsey’s legacy will be pursued as she has inspired the world,” he told Reuters.