When Lindsey Vonn captured downhill gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics, becoming the only American woman to win that marquee event, she called it “the best day of my life by far.”
Now the 34-year old has reached another sort of milestone.
Slowed by age and aching knees, Vonn announced that she will retire after the upcoming world championships in Sweden.
“It’s been an emotional two weeks making the hardest decision of my life,” she posted on Instagram, “but I have accepted that I cannot continue ski racing.”
Her career includes not only the Olympic downhill championship but also bronze medals in the 2010 super-G and 2018 downhill. Her 82 World Cup victories stand as a women’s record and she is the only American to have won four World Cup overall titles.
Off the mountain, good looks, long blond hair and a two-year relationship with golfer Tiger Woods made even more headlines, the star-crossed pairing coming to an end in 2015.
“Unfortunately, we lead very hectic lives and are both competing in demanding sports,” Woods said on his website at the time. “It’s difficult to spend time together.”
As her racing career drew to an end, Vonn was nearing the record for career World Cup victories, needing five more to surpass Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark. Ultimately, years of competing with aggression and daring would not allow it.
“I have always pushed the limits of ski racing and it has allowed me to have amazing success but also dramatic crashes,” she wrote.
Those spectacular wipeouts left her with permanent damage to both knees, torn ligaments, multiple fractures and concussions. As the surgeries piled up, her ability to race at top speed diminished.
In her social media post, Vonn noted that she underwent yet another surgery last spring, having a large piece of cartilage removed. A painful crash at Copper Mountain, Colo., in November left her with additional torn ligaments and three fractures.
“My body is broken beyond repair and it isn’t letting me have the final season I dreamed of,” she wrote. “My body is screaming at me to stop and it’s time for me to listen.”
U.S. Ski & Snowboard president Tiger Shaw echoed that sentiment, calling her “the greatest U.S. female skier of all time.”
“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,” he said.
Vonn plans to race the downhill and super-G in Are, Sweden, later this month.