The 2019 World Alpine Skiing Championships wrapped up Sunday in Are, Sweden. In addition to outstanding skiing, the competition featured emotional and moving moments from skiers of a wide variety of backgrounds and at different stages in their careers. My favorites are below:
“Attacking Vikings” share the podium in downhill – These World Championships were the final competition for Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway. At 35, he has been one of the most successful and entertaining personalities in alpine skiing over the course of his 17-year career, with two Olympic gold medals and five world titles to his name. He announced his upcoming retirement on Instagram: “I’m writing this with some butterflies in my stomach, but also a smile on my face. I think that’s a good sign that this is the right decision.” In the World Championship downhill, fighting through chronic knee injuries and a hand injury, he managed to finish just 0.02 seconds behind his teammate and friend, Kjetil Jansrud. Watching the two aging “attacking Vikings” smiling and laughing atop the podium together was heartwarming. (Vincent Kriechmayr of Austria finished third.) “It was a little poetic in that we’ve shared so many hours of training together,” Jansrud said. “With all the previous wins we’ve had and to be able to be on the podium together one last time, it’s like a fairytale.” I will miss Svindal’s amazing skiing and calm, laid-back personality.
Lindsey Vonn’s triumphant retirement – After she crashed in the super G, many people doubted Lindsey Vonn would be able to compete in the downhill. Due to numerous knee injuries over the years, Vonn had announced that these World Championships would be her final competition. “I’ve got a bit of a shiner,” she told the media after the crash. “I feel like I’ve been hit by an 18-wheeler, but other than that I’m great.” Not only was Vonn able to ski the downhill, but she pulled out all the stops, took the lead, and her time held up for a bronze medal. Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia won gold and Corinne Suter of Switzerland won silver. Vonn celebrated her retirement with family, friends, boyfriend P.K. Subban, her dog Lucy and most importantly to Vonn, retired Swedish skier Ingemar Stenmark, who holds the record for most career world cup wins. Vonn wore blue and yellow in honor of Stenmark, whose total of 86 wins she was trying to surpass before being derailed by injuries. He gave her a bouquet of flowers at the finish line in a rare public appearance for the reclusive athlete. Vonn called her final race “probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life.” To head into retirement with a crash and a medal in her final two races perfectly sums up Vonn’s gutsy, all-or-nothing style of skiing.
Mikaela Shiffrin’s historic and gritty victory in the slalom – Mikaela Shiffrin is widely regarded as the best skier in the world, having dominated the slalom and giant slalom races for several years and beginning to notch victories in super G and downhill as well. At 23, she has amassed 55 world cup wins and is on pace to easily surpass Stenmark’s record of 86 She has demonstrated tremendous talent, hard work, and a methodical approach to training and competition that has paid dividends. One thing Shiffrin has not particularly been known for is having to overcome adversity. Until Saturday, that is. Fighting an illness that made it difficult to breathe without coughing, Shiffrin finished third in the first slalom run. But her outstanding second run propelled her to victory. In an emotional interview with NBC’s Andrea Joyce, Shiffrin explained that she and her mom were considering withdrawing from the competition, but she decided against it: “I’m out here. I want to do it and whether I win or not, I just wanted to try. And when she said ‘you don’t have to,’ then I was sure that I wanted to.” With this win, Shiffrin became the first skier in history to win the same event at the World Championships 4 years in a row. And she showed courage and determination that not everyone knew she possessed.