Spinning off the race course, tumbling across the snow in a frightening wipeout, Lindsey Vonn had one thought running through her mind.
“It was like, why am I here?” she recalled. “I’m too old for this.”
Making her farewell appearance at the world championships this week, the greatest female skier in U.S. history started off with a crash on Tuesday, losing her balance on a jump near the top of the super-G course and ending up in the safety nets.
It was not exactly the performance she had envisioned.
“I’ve got a bit of a shiner. I feel like I’ve been hit by an 18-wheeler,” Vonn told reporters. “But other than that, I’m great.”
Flat lighting on the mountain in Are, Sweden, may have been partially to blame as conditions made for a tight competition in the super-G.
Current American star Mikaela Shiffrin said she was “lucky” to get a burst of sunlight on her run, finishing ahead of a pack in which only .26 seconds separated first through eighth place.
“If you want to win, you have to be really aggressive,” Shiffrin said. “I was taking a lot of risk.”
Her run was just fast enough to slip past silver medalist Sofia Goggia of Italy and bronze medalist Corinne Suter of Switzerland. No sooner had Shiffrin crossed the finish line than she looked up to see Vonn coming down the course.
When the video board showed the ensuing crash, she turned away.
The wipeout looked like “it was on the edge of disaster,” she said. “It’s such a fine line between the risk you have to take in order to win and then the risk you have to take when it’s just a little bit too much or a little bit wrong.”
The 34-year-old had intended to compete through the end of this season, but announced that she would retire after Are, forced to quit ahead of schedule by the pain in her battered knees.
“I feel like I’ve cried so much, honestly, I’m tapped out,” she said of reaching her decision over the last two weeks. “I’m not sad anymore. I’ve accepted it.”
The most successful woman in World Cup history, Vonn has 82 career victories, just four short of the all-time record held by Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark. She is the only American woman to win the Olympic downhill and capture four World Cup overall titles.
Now comes a final run in the downhill on Sunday.
“Don’t count me out,” she said. “I’ve got one more chance. Maybe I’ll pull off a miracle.”
Follow @LAtimesWharton on Twitter