(Reuters) - U.S. ski great Lindsey Vonn announced on Friday she would be retiring after this month’s Alpine world championships in Sweden because her body was “broken beyond repair” and screaming at her to stop.
“I have accepted that I cannot continue ski racing. I will compete at the World Championships in downhill and SG (super-G) next week in Are, Sweden, and they will be the final races of my career,” Vonn, 34, said on Instagram.
Vonn, who holds the women’s record of 82 World Cup wins, had previously suggested she might compete until December so she could race again in the Canadian resort of Lake Louise, her most successful tour stop, after an injury denied her the opportunity to do so in 2018.
But Vonn, who in 2010 became the first American woman to win an Olympic downhill gold, has been plagued by knee injuries and said in a tearful interview with Austrian state broadcaster ORF last month that she might have to quit immediately.
As recognizable on the red carpet as she is on the ski hill, the personable and photogenic Vonn, who once dated professional golfer Tiger Woods, had a crossover appeal that made her the sport’s most popular athlete and earned her many lucrative endorsement deals.
In a lengthy post on Instagram, Vonn said the past two weeks had been emotional and that the decision to call time on a glittering career was the hardest of her life.
“I have always pushed the limits of ski racing and it has allowed me to have amazing success but also dramatic crashes,” said Vonn, whose injury setbacks include multiple broken bones, surgeries and grueling rehabilitations.
“I have never wanted the storyline of my career to be about injuries and because of that I decided not to tell anyone that I underwent surgery this past spring. A large portion of cartilage that had delaminated from my bone was removed.
“My crash in Lake Louise last year (2017) was much more painful than I let on, but I continued to race because I wanted to win a medal in the (2018 Pyeongchang) Olympics for my late grandfather.”
Vonn, who also won a super-G Olympic bronze in 2010 and downhill bronze at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, said she had felt better than for a long time after recovering but another crash in November injured her left knee, causing three fractures that needed intensive therapy.
“I am not able make the turns necessary to compete the way I know I can. My body is broken beyond repair and it isn’t letting me have the final season I dreamed of. My body is screaming at me to STOP and it’s time for me to listen,” she said.
Fellow American Mikaela Shiffrin, who on Friday moved into a share of third place on the women’s all-time World Cup list with 55 wins, thanked Vonn for inspiring her and putting the sport into mainstream conversation.
“As a young kid, I really looked up to Lindsey Vonn. I wrote book reports about her. I dreamed of being a ski racer someday, of being the best in the world. I was Lindsey’s biggest fan,” Olympic giant slalom champion Shiffrin, 23, said in a statement.
“And, we haven’t overlapped much since she’s been focused on speed and then there were injuries, but Lindsey really paved the way for me in my career.”
Vonn, who had long targeted the overall mark of 86 World Cup wins held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark, said she was more upset about not achieving goals than retirement itself.
“I can look back at 82 World Cup wins, 20 World Cup titles, three Olympic medals, seven World Championship medals and say that I have accomplished something that no other woman in history has ever done,” she said.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard President and Chief Executive Tiger Shaw thanked Vonn in a statement for consistently raising the bar, providing the sport with some of its greatest memories and creating a legacy he said will live forever.
“Lindsey Vonn will be celebrated as not only the greatest U.S. female skier of all time, but as an athlete who has inspired people around the world, both in and out of the sport of ski racing, for many years,” said Shaw.
“We have been so lucky to have been able to share many of Lindsey’s extraordinary achievements, but now the time is right for Lindsey to call time on her incredible career.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto and Alan Baldwin in London; Additional reporting by Rory Carroll in Atlanta; Editing by Ed Osmond