Svindal and Vonn say farewell with medals
Two legends end racing careers on a high
Jo Christian Weldingh
In the same city—Åre, Sweden—and on the same hill that he won his first World Championship 12 years ago, Norwegian skiing legend Aksel Lund Svindal ended his career with a superb downhill race, Feb. 9, only beaten by fellow Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud.
Two-hundredths of a second separated Svindal (1:20.0) from gold-medal winner Jansrud (1:19.98) when he crossed the finish line in his last-ever race in a sport he has dominated over the last decade. Still, Svindal was all smiles when he met the press afterward.
“I feel great,” he said, smiling. “I don’t need to feel bad about quitting when my teammates are this good. It’s a perfect day.”
Svindal, 36, lifted both hands and pointed to the sky when he crossed the finish line. Then, he and Jansrud sat together in the leader’s chair, smiling and having fun with the spectators. It was an exciting race, but no one came close to challenging the two Norwegians. Vincent Kriechmayr of Austria (1:20.31) came closest and won bronze.
Svindal announced his decision to retire two weeks before the championship started and has been celebrated by an entire nation ever since. Svindal had been clear about the fact that his career isn’t over until it’s over, and that became evident when he zoomed in to his last World Championship medal.
“One hell of a show,” Svindal called his last race.
Another skiing legend who got a perfect end to an even more perfect career was Norwegian American Lindsey Vonn, 34, (her great-great-grandmother was from Laudal), who won the bronze in the downhill competition in Åre on Feb. 10. Vonn did what she has done her whole career: she risked everything.
“I’m not surprised,” she told NRK afterward. “Everyone knows my mentality. I risk everything, every time. That’s why I have won so much.”
Vonn has been struggling with injuries for a while, and she decided that her body had enough after a long career.
Vonn had wanted to become the winningest alpine skier in the World Cup, a goal she never reached. Ingemar Stenmark from Sweden had 86 World Cup wins on the men’s side, and Vonn stopped at 82.
Still, Vonn’s 82 victories are almost 20 more than her nearest competitor. She’s one of the few women to have won races in all five disciplines, and she also has an Olympic gold and two bronze medals under her belt.
When she crossed the finish line in Åre, Stenmark came out to greet her with a hug and flowers. “I made him come today,” she said in the press zone. “I sent him several text messages in all caps.”
There was more than coincidence Svindal and Vonn completed their careers at the same time. Vonn has long trained with Svindal and the Norwegian team.
“They’ve always pushed me and always respected me as much as I respected them, and I find that to be very motivating.” Vonn told Yahoo! News before the championships. “They’re always smiling, working hard, and very gracious on and off the slope. It’s been a privilege to spend time with them.”
“She’s been a great profile for skiing on and off the hill,” Svindal told Yahoo! News. “She has a reach that goes beyond just racing, and that is something everyone involved in skiing should be grateful for because it’s important for the sport to have those profiles.”
Both Svindal and Vonn are skiing legends for the ages and will be missed on race days by fans and media alike.
Other Norwegian results:
Henrik Kristoffersen finally beat Austria’s Marcel Hirscher in the giant slalom, by .20. Aleksander Aamoldt Kilde was third in combined downhill. Ragnhild Mowinckel was third in combined downhill, .06 from gold, and Alpine combined, .45 from first.
Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, and lives in Oslo. He has a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of Oslo and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from BI Norwegian Business School.
This article originally appeared in the March 8, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.