By Pat Graham • The Associated Press

The career of Lindsey Vonn

A look at the life and career of Lindsey Vonn, who has retired from skiing after winning bronze in downhill at the world championships:

1984: Born Oct. 18 in Minnesota, as Lindsey Kildow.

1996: Moves with family to Vail, Colorado, to advance her skiing career.

1999: At age 14, becomes first American female to win the slalom at the Trofeo Topolino, a prestigious international junior competition in Italy.

2002: Makes U.S. team for Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, racing in slalom and alpine combined. Achieves sixth place in combined.

2003: Wins silver medal in downhill at junior world championships.

2004: Reaches a World Cup podium for first time with third place in downhill at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, in January. First World Cup win comes in downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta, in December.

2006: Makes U.S. team for Winter Olympics in Turin. Crashes in second training run for downhill and airlifted to hospital, but returns two days later to place eighth.

2007: Wins silver medals in downhill and super-G at world championships in Are, Sweden. Marries Thomas Vonn, a fellow skier who became her coach, and takes his name.

2008: Wins overall World Cup title, the second American woman to do so after Tamara McKinney. Breaks U.S. record for most World Cup downhill wins (10).

2009: Wins gold medals in super-G and downhill at world championships in Val d’Isere, France. Retains overall World Cup title.

2010: Wins gold medal in downhill at Winter Olympics in Vancouver, then bronze in super-G. Won a third straight overall World Cup title.

2011: Wins silver medal in downhill at world championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Announces she will be getting divorced.

2012: Becomes overall World Cup champion for fourth time. Reaches 50 World Cup wins.

2013: Tears two ligaments in knee during super-G crash at world championships in January. After setbacks in recovery, says she will not compete at 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Begins dating Tiger Woods — their relationship lasts two years.

2015: With her 63rd victory, breaks record for most World Cup wins for a female skier. Wins World Cup titles in downhill and super-G, and bronze medal in super-G at world championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado.

2016: Suffers hairline fracture of left knee in super-G crash in Andorra in March and then breaks arm in training crash in Colorado in November.

2017: Wins bronze in downhill at world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, becoming oldest woman to medal in that event.

2018: Wins bronze in downhill at Winter Olympics in Sochi. Says in October she will retire at end of 2018-19 season. After injuring knee in training, says she will be retiring after races at Lake Louise, Alberta, in December 2019.

2019: Announces she will be retiring after world championships in Are, Sweden. Wins bronze medal in her final race, the downhill.

The temperature: absolutely freezing. The time: barely after sunrise.

The place: the bottom of a training hill in Vail, Colorado, waiting for Lindsey Vonn to finish a few runs to test her surgically repaired knee just before the 2014 Sochi Games — an Olympics she ended up missing because of that troublesome knee.

“Why on Earth would you wait in this?” an incredulous Vonn asked me as she threw on her parka.

That one needed no answer.

If you have waited in the bitter cold, pressed against the fencing waiting for an interview, or, as a fan, planned your entire day around seeing Vonn — even if for just that magical split second when she sped by you on the mountain — then you were not alone. You were lucky. Freezing, perhaps. But lucky.

Because greatness like that does not come along often.

In an unscientific survey of fans, friends, family members and rivals to uncover the perfect word that best captured Vonn, each person answered with a variation of three — a podium of sorts to describe the winningest female World Cup skier ever.




Maybe that is why she kept going even after every outward and inward sign told her to stop.

At 34 and with her knees simply refusing to cooperate anymore, the 2010 Olympic downhill champion and the four-time overall World Cup title winner pushed out of the start gate for a final time at the world championships Sunday in Sweden. It was vintage Vonn as she roared through the downhill course to earn one last podium spot — a bronze medal that felt like pure gold. Before exiting the stage, she waved to the crowd and took one final bow.

A well-deserved moment over a career filled with crashes and comebacks, celebrations and triumphs, broken bones and broken hearts, red carpets and golden opportunities.

“The compelling nature of Lindsey’s story is not her victories or medals. It is her daring, her willingness to work extraordinarily hard, and her grit,” said her father, Alan Kildow, who moved the family from Minnesota to Colorado to help nurture his daughter’s talent when she was young. “Without failure there can be no true victory, and Lindsey represents the willingness to risk failure to ultimately achieve her dreams.”

Podium word No. 1: resilient.

The image was jarring: Vonn whisked away from the mountain by a helicopter after a violent crash.

Not once. Twice.

The first copter ride was after a downhill training crash before the 2006 Turin Games. Two days later, and with a bruised hip, she finished eighth in the downhill. The other, February 2013 at the world championships in Austria when she tore her ACL and MCL. It took her months to get back — she re-injured the knee and it cost her the shot at defending her downhill title at the Sochi Games — but return she did.

Comebacks and toughness have always been her thing. Her dad compared her to Rocky Balboa because she is the “everyman who climbs into the ring, takes a beating, and gets back up off the canvas to win the bout.”

That ability to bounce back served her well over a career that included torn knee ligaments, broken bones, a sliced thumb and so much more.

Her first World Cup start was Nov. 18, 2000, in a slalom race in Park City, Utah, and she did not qualify for the second run. She was known as Lindsey Kildow then, until she changed her name to Vonn after marrying her now ex-husband, Thomas, in 2007. They announced their divorce in 2011 and she did not change her name back because, well, the world knew her as Vonn. During her marriage, she was estranged from her father, but they have mended the relationship.

She would win 82 World Cup races — four behind the all-time mark held by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark, who showed up Sunday at her request — and drew comparisons to compatriot Bode Miller, who was revered for his high-risk approach.

“What she’s done for the sport, inspiring so many youth, girls and boys, and showing you can compete with the big superstars in Europe, we’re all proud,” American racer Daron Rahlves said.

As the U.S. ski team doctor for more than 20 years, Dr. William Sterett cannot help but marvel at her resiliency.

“I don’t know anybody in any other sport that’s had to bounce back as many times as she has,” Sterett said. “She’s come back just as tough and just as driven as she ever was.”

Podium word No. 2: stubborn.

Word of caution — don’t tell Vonn she can’t do something. It fires her up.

“Once something is in her mind she’s going to do it,” said her sister, Laura Kildow.

Vonn’s sister has been by her side through many of her surgeries. She has seen the determination to get back on the slopes.

“I have this image of her a few days after having surgery where she’s sitting on the floor in front of the TV trying to raise her foot off the ground,” Laura Kildow recalled. “She was so concentrated, her leg was shaking. But she just physically couldn’t do it. But the look in her eyes was like you knew she wasn’t going to stop trying until she did it.”

That is why stepping away was so difficult. She planned to go until December and could not wrap her mind around leaving early.

Her body finally convinced her. Two last races at the world championships and no more. In the super-G, she crashed and suffered more bruises. But she returned even more determined Sunday in a downhill in which she momentarily had the lead.

“I put the nerves aside and just enjoyed it,” she said.

A bigger bonus: “I made it down safely,” she cracked.

Podium word No. 3: game-changer.

Vonn was among the first women to regularly use men’s downhill skis, which were longer and tougher to control but generated more power. Given her renowned workout routines — upside-down situps anyone? — she didn’t have a problem. She also wanted to race against the men, something that never came to fruition.

She opened eyes to what is possible, especially to a youngster named Mikaela Shiffrin, who has 56 World Cups wins and turns 24 in March.

“I wrote book reports about her,” Shiffrin said. “I was Lindsey’s biggest fan.”

Vonn’s success was not limited to the slopes. The spotlight always found her, a crossover athlete who appeared on magazine covers, dated famous sports stars — once golfer Tiger Woods and now Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban — and wore elegant outfits at gala events. She also has set up a foundation to help future generations find their “grit within.”

All part of her plan to raise the profile of ski racing — much like Serena Williams did for tennis.

“I try to be dynamic and powerful and really creating speed where most people can’t,” Vonn said before the Pyeongchang Games last February, when she earned a bronze in the downhill. “In that way I hope to leave a powerful impact on the sport and hopefully raise the level of women’s skiing.”

Consider it accomplished.