Lindsey Vonn, one of the great alpine skiers of all time, was unable to repeat her downhill victory in the 2010 Olympics in a title defense eight years in the waiting on a sun-splashed Wednesday afternoon in Pyeongchang.
The American had been among the favorites to win gold in her strongest event but a mistake-free run was not enough to hold off Italy’s Sofia Goggia, who captured gold and shed her label as one of the world’s best skiers to have never won an Olympic title.
Goggia, the World Cup downhill leader whose previous career-best accolade had been a giant slalom bronze at last year’s world ski championships in St Moritz, was fifth out the starting gate and overcame a slow start to finish in 1 min, 39.22 sec, a time that no one else could match on a precarious course that produced eight DNFs.
Italy’s Sofia Goggia pips Lindsey Vonn to seal gold in the women’s downhill. Photograph: Tom Pennington/Getty Images
“I moved like a samurai,” the gregarious 25-year-old said afterward. “Usually I’m really chaotic. I just used my brain, because I have one, sometimes.”
Vonn, racing out of the seventh position, made no major errors but fell off the pace in the middle section after hitting a gate and finished 0.38 seconds behind her Italian rival. That time was good for second and held through all the top contenders, many of whom made mistakes that took them out of contention including Switzerland’s Lara Gut, who missed a gate, and falls by Austria’s Stephanie Venier and Italy’s Nadia Fanchini.
That was until a surprise run by Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel, the 19th racer of the day who finished 0.09 seconds behind Goggia to win the silver, nudged Vonn into third place.
“I thought I skied really well,” Vonn said. “I thought I executed the line perfectly. I thought I did great. Maybe I just was a little bit too clean, maybe a little bit too precise with the line. Maybe I should have let the skis run a little bit more. But I didn’t make any mistakes, I didn’t ski stiff, I wasn’t nervous, I laid it all on the line and that’s all I can do. I’ll look at the video, but I’m happy with what I did.”
The bronze makes Vonn, 33, the oldest female alpine skier to win a medal in Winter Games history, surpassing a record held by Austria’s Michaela Dorfmeister, who won golds in the downhill and the super-G at the Turin Olympics in 2006.
At the finish the American blew a kiss skyward for her grandfather, who passed away in November. Afterward a visibly emotional Vonn spoke about her grandfather, who passed away in November 2017: “I worked my butt off … I’m really proud of my medal and I know he is too,” the Minnesota native said, adding this would be her final Olympics.
Vonn, who missed the chance to defend her Olympic title at Sochi due to injury, still has the alpine combined to come on Thursday, where she has an outside shot at another medal. But the completion of her signature event left the American feeling bittersweet.
“It’s sad, it’s my last downhill,” she said. “I wish I could keep going, I’m having so much fun and I love what I do, but my body just can’t take another four years. But I’m proud to be competing for my country, giving it all and proud to come away with a medal.”
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