Lindsey Vonn walked away with her career haul of medals in her right hand, the gold, silver and bronze clinking together almost weighing her down.
Or was it the bulging knee braces and metal support rods inside her vast array of broken bones?
Whatever it was, the sound was a reminder of what Vonn has come to symbolize — an athlete who battled back from one major injury after another throughout her career to win more ski races than any other woman.
Add one more — final — comeback to the list
Five days after crashing in super-G — a fall that knocked the wind out of her and left her with a black eye and a bruised rib — and three months after tearing a ligament in her left knee, Vonn won the bronze medal in the world championship downhill on Sunday in the final race of her career.
She’s shed so many tears that there are none left — just like she no longer has any cartilage in her knees.
“I’m literally tapped out, I can’t cry anymore,” Vonn said. “I want to cry but it’s dry. ... It’s not an easy thing to feel your bones hitting together and continue to push through it.
“Of course I’m sore. Even before the crash I was sore. So I’m just sore on top of sore. My neck is killing me,” Vonn said. “But at the end of the day no one cares if my neck hurts; they only care if I win. ... I knew that I was capable of pushing through the pain one last time and I did that. ... Every athlete has their own obstacles and I faced mine head on today and I conquered them.”
Vonn had been planning on retiring in December but she recently moved up her plans because of persistent pain in both of her surgically repaired knees. Then came the super-G crash when she straddled a gate in mid-air, flew face first down the mountain and slammed into the safety nets.
It’s a medal that brings Vonn full circle: the American’s two silvers at the 2007 worlds on the same course in Are, Sweden, were the first two major championship medals of her career.
As soon as she exited the finish area, Vonn embraced Swedish-great Ingemar Stenmark, the only skier to win more World Cup races than she did — 86 to 82.
Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia beat Vonn and took gold, defending her title from the 2017 worlds. Stuhec finished 0.23 seconds ahead of silver medallist Corinne Suter of Switzerland and 0.49 ahead of Vonn. Canada’s Roni Remme finished 28th.
Vonn became the first female skier to win medals at six different world championships. It’s also her fifth downhill medal at a worlds, matching the record established by Annemarie Moser-Proell and Christel Cranz.