In the months leading up to what was her final Olympic downhill competition, Lindsey Vonn became the subject of some online vitriol for her comments regarding President Trump. In an interview in December, Vonn said she skied for her country, not the U.S. President.
Some Trump supporters were delighted in her sixth place finish in the Super G race on Saturday. “That’s what bullies want you to do,” Vonn told reporters before her downhill race. “I stand by my values, I’m not going to back down. The trolls were back at it again after the downhill race on Wednesday morning in South Korea. Vonn finished with a bronze; the downhill is Vonn’s best event. She won last three World Cup races going in. So her trolls saw her third place finish as loss, as some sort of karma for her comments about Trump.
Vonn saw it differently, and she offered a pointed message for her critics. “Man, take a walk in my shoes,” Vonn said after the race, in response to TIME’s question about her critics. “I will not be beaten. I stand strong, and I am proud of what I represent, and who I am. And I’m very proud to hold the American flag on the podium. And you know all Americans deserve to hold the flag, and be proud of their country no matter what their beliefs. Because that’s what makes America great. So I’m not beaten. I’m standing on the podium. And to me, I feel like I won a gold medal.”
Vonn lost by 0.47 seconds to gold medal winner Sofia Goggia of Italy, and also finished behind silver medalist Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway. At 33, Vonn is now the oldest woman to win an Alpine skiing medal. After Vonn crossed the finish and knew she didn’t catch Goggia, she pointed to her Italian rival. Goggia got her. Goggia compared herself to a samurai. “Samurai are really perfect,” says Goggia. “They move with elegance. I’m not elegant but I paid attention at every moment to what I was doing. I was in the zone.”
After the race Goggia called Vonn, who has 81 World Cup wins, more than another other female skier in history, the greatest of all-time.
Chris Knight, Vonn’s coach, said she skied “tentative.” Again, Vonn offered an alternative view. “I didn’t ski stiff, I wasn’t nervous, I laid it all on the line,” says Vonn. “That’s all I can do.”
The veteran American alpine star wanted this one badly, after all the crashes, all the rehab, after she missed the chance to headline the Sochi Olympics four years ago due to injury. She wanted to defend her 2010 downhill title at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. “When you’re younger, you ski and you win and you don’t appreciate things,” says Vonn. “I’ve been in the fences so many times. I know so many doctors on a first name basis, it’s ridiculous. So if you need any medial care, let me know I can hook you up with the right doctor.” Karin Kildow, Vonn’s sister, says “every single meal she’s eaten for the past two years is to build up to this moment. Every single gym workout. Every single thing she’s done for the last eight years has been this for day, and that two minutes.” This bronze is Vonn’s third Olympic medal, after the 2010 downhill gold in Vancouver, and a bronze in the 2010 Super-G.
“I gave it my best shot,” Vonn said through tears during an interview with NBC after the race, “I’m so proud.”
Lindsey Vonn also confirmed that this race was almost certainly her last Olympic downhill. “I love racing,” says Vonn. “I love being in the starting gate with so much pressure you feel suffocated. But somehow you will yourself to give everything you have, and you throw yourself down the mountain in hopes of a medal. I’m absolutely going to miss it. I wish I can keep skiing. I wish my body didn’t hurt as bad as it does.”
Besides the physical hurdles, Vonn has faced mental challenges as well. In particular, the “savage abuse” — her words — she’s taken on social media for her remarks about Trump. After Saturday’s Super G, in response to former U.S. soccer star and current ESPN analyst Julie Foudy calling out some of the more vile remarks, Vonn wrote on Twitter:
She certainly didn’t back down on the slopes. The night before her downhill race, Vonn fired off a message to her fans:
Vonn fulfilled her promise, racing to the podium and falling just short of victory. After crossing the finish, knowing gold was out of reach, Vonn showed no disappointment. She smiled, waved to the cameras, and rallied the U.S. cheering section. Then she blew a kiss to the the clouds, in honor of her grandfather Don Kildow, who died in November, and with whom Vonn was very close. “I wanted desperately to win for him today,” she says, growing emotional. “I didn’t do that. I won a bronze. And I think he would still be proud of me.”
After she received her stuffed animal on the victory podium and fulfilled her media obligations, Vonn greeted her American fans at the bottom of the mountain, and signed a few autographs. “I’m proud to have competed for my country,” Vonn said, “I’m proud to have given it my all.” One fan yelled: “You’re our Beyonce!” Another tapped his hand on her shoulder. “Great job, Lindsey,” he said. The man was dressed as Captain America.
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