It was supposed to be a happy farewell, but Lindsey Vonn crashed in her opening race at skiing’s World Championships as compatriot Mikaela Shiffrin triumphed in Sweden.
The 34-year-old Vonn flew off a jump and careered into netting in Tuesday’s super-G, the penultimate race of her glittering career after announcing her retirement last week because of the toll the sport has taken on her “broken” body.
After race officials and medics rushed to her aid, Vonn eventually got back up and skied tentatively down the course in Are.
She was greeted with a rousing ovation in the finish area and waved to the large crowd as she took off her skis.
“I feel like I’ve been hit by an 18-wheeler,” Vonn told a later news conference. “I got the wind knocked out of me but it’s OK. I wasn’t expecting it.”
Vonn said she still intends to compete in Sunday’s World Championships downhill before hanging up her race skis.
The American has won 82 World Cup races, second on the all-time list behind Ingemar Stenmark (86), and is the most successful women’s ski racer of all time.
“I’m just trying to accept the position I’m in and move forward with it,” she said, referring to her enforced retirement. “The last two races probably won’t be my farewell season I wanted – being able to break Stenmark’s record.
“I’m hoping Sunday will be a much better day.”
Shiffrin, who started immediately before Vonn in bib number 15, took the lead with a host of racers still to come, including Olympic super-G champion Ester Ledecka.
But the 23-year-old held on to beat Italy’s Olympic downhill champion Sofia Goggia by 0.02 seconds with Swiss Corinne Suter 0.05 secs back.
“It was a really tight race, the differences were like nothing,” Shiffrin told reporters. “It was a fight. It’s tough, all these girls deserved to win.”
Slalom specialist Shiffrin is bidding for a fourth straight slalom world title in Are. The Olympic giant slalom champion is not planning to race in the downhill but will contest the slalom, giant slalom and possibly combined event in Are.
Shiffrin has been the standout women’s skier this season with 13 wins on the World Cup circuit to climb to 56 victories overall, making her the fifth most successful ski racer of all time.
“She’s mentally tougher than anyone else, she trains more … she does everything well and you’re seeing the results,” American ski great Bode Miller told Eurosport, referring to runaway World Cup standings leader Shiffrin.
Ledecka, who also won snowboarding gold in Pyeongchang, was more than two seconds off the pace after a disappointing run.
Mikaela Shiffrin: The most dominant sportswoman on the planet?
‘My body is broken beyond repair’
Vonn won super-G and downhill world titles in 2009 and clinched Olympic downhill gold as well as super-G bronze in 2010.
A serious knee injury prevented her defending her title in Sochi in 2014, but she fought back from a host of other injuries to earn downhill bronze in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Lindsey Vonn: Greatest female skier retires
Vonn said in October that this season would be her last but a knee injury in a training crash at Copper Mountain, Colorado in November put back her season debut until January. She struggled with knee pain in two races in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy and after much soul-searching she announced Friday she would retire after the World Championships.
She added in Are: “I was pretty clear after Cortina my body is not going to continue doing what I wanted it to do. I didn’t want to end in Cortina, I thought that was not the way to go out.
“I wanted to say goodbye to everybody. It’s been really nice to get all the messages from my fellow competitors and coaches and all my friends that have supported me for so many years. It’s been really heart warming for me and makes the process of retiring a little bit easier, maybe.”
Vonn said she could possibly carry on if she only needed one more win to beat Stenmark’s record, but insists continuing in search of five wins is “not worth ruining my body for.”
“To consistently train and race, my knees are just not able to handle it,” she told Eurosport.
“My right knee because of the cartilage I had taken out in the spring, and then my left knee I have no LCL (lateral collateral ligament) and I’m wearing two braces.
“I can’t train, I can barely do anything on the mountain. So it’s a tough decision to be in. But I’m thinking I’m making a smart decision for my future.”