ARE, Sweden — As Mikaela Shiffrin hopped atop the podium to celebrate another gold medal, Lindsey Vonn was nearby on the sidelines of the finish area, stretching her ailing knees and explaining how she wound up entangled in a safety net halfway down the course.
Definitive proof, not that it was really needed, of a passing of the baton in American — and world — ski racing.
With a daring and often wild run, Shiffrin won the super-G by two one-hundredths of a second at the skiing world championships on Tuesday for her first medal in a speed event at a major championship. She has now won a gold medal at four straight worlds.
For Vonn, the afternoon made her question her decision to return to make one last bid for a title before retirement.
Racing straight after Shiffrin, Vonn was already eight one-hundredths of a second behind her compatriot at the first checkpoint when, off balance after misreading the roll on the crown of a hill, she straddled a gate midair, landed heavily on her right side, crashed her head against her left arm, and ended up sliding face first.
There were audible gasps from the grandstand at the bottom of the course as fans watched on the big screen. Shiffrin looked away, seemingly in horror, and later said Vonn had been “on the edge of disaster.” Sofia Goggia, who won silver, clutched her helmet with both hands.
Medical personnel tended to Vonn for a few minutes before the world’s most famous ski racer got to her feet, put on her skis, and went down the hill unaided. She looked groggy and in pain as she performed a slew of post-race interviews, but seemed better a few hours later.
“I’ve got a bit of a shiner,” Vonn said, showing the right side of her face. “I feel like I’ve been hit by an 18-wheeler.”
Her immediate thought, she added, was: “Why am I in the fence again?’ It was like, ‘Why am I here? I’m too old for this.’”
A positive sign was the way Vonn, 34, spoke about still being a contender in the downhill on Sunday, in what will be the final race of her storied career.
“Don’t count me out,” said Vonn, the winner of 82 World Cup races, a record for female skiers. “I’ve got one more chance. Maybe I’ll pull off a miracle, maybe I won’t.”
On a course that was shortened because of strong winds on Tuesday, Vonn was typically aggressive from the start, despite the persistent pain in both of her knees that is forcing her into retirement.
Shiffrin, a more technical racer, also took risks that yielded complications. She veered off line on the lower section of the course, flailed her arms midair to slow down and narrowly cleared the next gate, clipping it with her side.
The mistake occurred right in front of the head coach of the United States team, Paul Kristofic.
“She flew far and slightly off to the left and had to make a fairly significant correction,” Kristofic told The Associated Press. “Not many people can do that, but she showed the world that she can — and not only just to recover from the mistake but to carry as much speed out of it and keep your head in the game.”
Perhaps it explained Shiffrin’s reaction after seeing her time. She crouched over and held her hands to her face in disbelief.
“This is crazy,” Shiffrin said. “I really wasn’t expecting this.”
Shiffrin, a two-time Olympic champion, is now a four-time world champion and a five-time medalist at the worlds. She also has 56 World Cup victories, which put her 26 behind Vonn on the career list and 30 behind the men’s record-holder, Ingemar Stenmark.
“I think she’s going to break all the records,” Vonn said of the 23-year-old Shiffrin.
Goggia, the Olympic downhill champion from Italy, managed a runner-up finish despite delaying the start of her season because of a right ankle injury.
Corinne Suter of Switzerland was third, five one-hundredths of a second behind — a remarkable result for a racer who nearly needed to have her right foot amputated last year after blood poisoning that almost went untreated.
Vonn’s legs are so battered that she will have knee surgery for the seventh time soon after she retires — to repair the left knee ligament she tore during training in November.
“I need complete reconstruction,” Vonn said. “That will be fun — hopefully, my last surgery.”
Vonn was planning on retiring at the end of this year but moved up her last race upon realizing last month, after failing to finish a super-G in Italy, that her knees couldn’t handle any more pounding.
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