Closure for Lindsey Vonn | ParkRecord.com

Closure for Lindsey Vonn

Tom Kelly, Park Record Columnist

Lindsey Vonn pushed out of the starting gate and into the fog. The blue sky mornings she had enjoyed the last 10 days in Les Trois Vallées were replaced with low-hanging clouds dipping down to the Piste du Roc de Fer. Gate by gate, she angulated perfect arcs, carving her way down the mountain in the soft spring snow.

A minute and 14 seconds later, Vonn crossed the finish line — a broad smile on her face. Today, though, there would be no hands pumped wildly into the air. She wouldn’t be lying on the snow shrieking with joy. There were no press conferences or TV networks clamoring to interview her first. But this was a special day for the woman who two days earlier tied Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 19 World Cup titles.

Lindsey Vonn’s fifth-place giant-slalom finish in Sunday’s Audi FIS Ski World Cup finale didn’t come with the crystal globes she won in the downhill and super G earlier in the week at Meribel. But it did bring a feeling of peace and closure — a sense of completeness for a comeback season that began nearly four months earlier in frigid Lake Louise, capping a two-year struggle to rebuild her body into championship form.

Beginning with her leading the American sweep in the second downhill of the year in Canada, Vonn had won eight World Cups, re-establishing herself as the speed queen of the tour after sitting out much of the two previous seasons following her catastrophic accident at the World Championships in February 2013. So some may have been surprised that after winning super G and downhill crystal globes earlier in the week, the speed queen didn’t just call it a season.

Today, she faced a new cast of characters. Gone was friend and rival Maria Hoefl-Riesch. Now she was contending with the likes of Austria’s Anna Fenninger and Slovenia’s Tina Maze. The night before in the Hotel Savoy, she shared the spotlight with the next generation of World Cup champions, teammate Mikaela Shiffrin, as they posed for photographs with their globes.

Vonn slid into the starting gate Sunday with something to prove — even if to just herself. A week before her 2013 accident in Schladming, Austria, she had won a giant slalom in Maribor, Slovenia. That was the last time she finished a GS. So Sunday was important in many ways.

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"My goal today wasn’t about the overall, just to get points for next year to get a better starting number in GS," she said. "I’m really happy with my skiing and it was a good way to end the season."

The center of attention Sunday was 25-year-old Austrian Anna Fenninger, who won the overall title in dramatic fashion on the final run of the season. On the overall crystal globe podium she was flanked by Vonn, who finished third on the season, and Maze — already foreshadowing the next season just seven months away in Soelden.

"It’s so nice to be healthy and to be able to risk everything in every race I enter," said Vonn.

"Today was just so fun!"

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Lindsey Vonn is just one of many U.S. skiing and snowboarding athletes who have spent their lives focused on achieving remarkable goals. For the past six months, I’ve enjoyed bringing you the insider story of their success in Behind the Gold. I hope you found these stories to be memorable and, most of all, that you have gained a glimpse into their character. Behind the Gold is taking the summer off, but I look forward to taking you into the starting gate again next October. Have a great summer.

~ Tom Kelly