ARE, Sweden — One last comeback complete. One last medal.
Five days after crashing in super-G, Lindsey Vonn bounced back to win the bronze medal in the world championship downhill Sunday in the final race of her career.
“I laid it all on the line. That’s all I wanted to do today,” Vonn said. “I have to admit I was a little bit nervous, probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I wanted to finish strong so badly.”
It’s a medal that brings Vonn full circle: the American’s two silvers at the 2007 worlds on the same course in Are were the first two major championship medals of her career.
“She has been business as usual this whole week, saying I’m racing to win,” said Karin Kildow, Vonn’s sister. “I was like, ‘Just maybe make it down and maybe stand up.’ But she was like, ‘No, I’m going full out.’ She was definitely in the mindset to push it and she really did.”
When Vonn crossed the finish line she had a big smile on her face, waved and bowed to the crowd.
“I had a really hard time controlling my nerves and I never have a hard time with that. I’m just happy I made it to the finish and I came down in the lead, which was nice for my last race,” Vonn said. “I’m also safe. I made it down safely. My boyfriend and my family are happy.”
Vonn had been planning on retiring in December but she recently moved up her retirement plans due to persistent pain in both of her surgically repaired knees. She then crashed in Tuesday’s super-G, coming away with a black eye and a bruised rib.
“Thank You Lindsey: Forever A Star,” read one sign positioned by the side of the course.
As soon as she exited the finish area, Vonn embraced Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark, the only skier to win more World Cup races than Vonn — 86 to 82.
“I’m happy that I could finish strong. I’m happy there are so many people here,” Vonn said. “I wish my mom and my brother and my sister could be here, but half the family is here so that’s good. I soaked it all in. I waved to the crowd one last time. Ingemar being in the finish area was literally the best thing that’s ever happened in my life.”
Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia defended her title from the 2017 worlds, finishing 0.23 seconds ahead of Corinne Suter of Switzerland and 0.49 ahead of Vonn.
Vonn becomes the first female skier to win medals at six different world championships. It’s also her fifth downhill medal at worlds, matching the record established by Annemarie Moser-Proell and Christel Cranz.
Four U.S. flags were in the grandstand when Vonn came down and there were quite a few cheers when she started her run wearing a suit with blue-and-yellow trim — Sweden’s colors — to honor Stenmark.
“She really deserves this sendoff from her great career,” said Eleanor Bodin, a 21-year-old fan from Sweden who was holding up a sign saying “Thank You Lindsey.”
“She has been my favorite skier since 2008 when I saw her winning on television,” Bodin said. “I was a little girl sitting on the sofa. I just thought what a great skier and inspiration.”
One Italian competitor bent down to the snow at Vonn’s feet when Vonn was still in the leader’s throne.
At 34 years and 115 days old, Vonn also became the oldest woman to win a medal at a worlds, eclipsing the record set by Veronika Velez-Zuzulova in the mixed team event in 2017 at 32 and 214 days.
While it was snowing heavily three hours before the race, the skies cleared up quickly. However, fog and wind forced organizers to shorten the course to the second reserve start.
A shorter course favored Vonn, as it reduced the strain on both of her surgically repaired knees.
“It really helped me to start lower down,” Vonn said. “The upper section was a bit bumpy and with my knee it’s really hard on the body. I knew I had a good chance and thankfully right before I went, exact opposite of the super-G, the sun came out. I was like, this is it. This is my day. I just charged. I gave it everything I have like always. I put the nerves aside and just enjoyed it. I love going fast. It was a perfect day for downhill.”
Associated Press writer Steve Douglas contributed to this report.