SPEED QUEEN

Lindsey Vonn is retiring as the best US skier of all time

She will be missed.
She will be missed.
Image: Reuters/Leonhard Foeger
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Lindsey Vonn is ending her career in ski racing like the true champion she is. She is still near the top of the pack, but will abandon her chase for an all-time record number of wins because her body can no longer take the beating that the sport—and her uncompromising style—requires. Vonn will ski in the last race of her career during the World Championships in Alpine Skiing in Are, Sweden, on Sunday (Feb. 10). It will be a downhill race, the discipline she has ruled for many years.

“I wouldn’t finish any other way than charging 110%, like always,” she told NBC, sporting a black eye she got in her penultimate race, in which she crashed into a gate. “Guns ablaze, all the way to the finish.”

It’s this attitude, in addition to remarkable talent and an unrelenting work ethic, that’s allowed her to be the top US skier of all time, and the best female racer in the world for much of her career. She’s collected 82 World Cup wins, seven World Championship medals, and three Olympic ones. If you look at the World Cup statistic, which takes into consideration the racers’ bread and butter, the circuit of races that take place on slopes all around the world every winter season, she has the highest number of wins out of any woman in history, and comes in second overall after Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who ended his career in 1989 with 86 wins.

(It’s important to note here that the titles “greatest US skier of all time” and “best female skier of all time” with regard to Vonn come with a big caveat. Her teammate Mikaela Shiffrin is 23 and has beat all sorts of records herself, and is likely to catch up with Vonn’s results very soon. Shiffrin has proven that she can win in all of skiing’s disciplines, and already has 56 World Cup wins under her belt, far more than Vonn had at her age. She currently dominates the sport.)

Vonn hoped to beat Stenmark’s record before retiring, but her hard-charging racing style and a good dose of bad luck battered her with a series of serious injuries throughout her over 18-year career, counting from her World Cup debut. US media love to revel in the injuries: Before major races, NBC presents Vonn’s body like a diagram, enumerating every torn ligament and broken bone (including the tendon she sliced on a champagne bottle while celebrating a win).

“My body is broken beyond repair and it isn’t letting me have the final season I dreamed of,” she said in a social media post announcing her retirement to her fans. “My body is screaming at me to STOP and it’s time for me to listen.”

But rather than her injuries, or the one unbeaten record, her ability to recover, her willpower, and her fearless skiing should be what defines her career. Not to mention a media savvy that helped popularize alpine skiing in the US, and inspired a generation of young racers.

And this kind of outspoken vulnerability, which she’s shown before, is what makes her all the more powerful as her sport’s spokesperson.

To watch Vonn’s last race live in the US, you can wake up at 6:25am ET and catch it on NBC Sports (or the app), or wait for the recorded version to play at 3pm ET on NBC.