On the day Lindsey Vonn raced for the last time, the undisputed king and queen of the sport embraced each other with hugs on his home soil to honor her career. And to make the occasion even more momentous, she gave them one more achievement to celebrate.
On the same slope in Sweden where she won her first world championships medals in 2007, Vonn claimed her eighth world championships medal Sunday, a bronze in downhill. Waiting for her in the finish area was Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark, the man whose all-time record for World Cup wins she came only four short of tying.
Stenmark, 62, is a notoriously shy and private man who is rarely seen on the ski circuit, but Vonn had urged him to be there for her final race and he obliged. He also presented flowers to the medalists at the podium ceremony.
"Ingemar being in the finish area was literally the best thing that's ever happened in my life," Vonn said in a finish-area interview with NBCSN's Andrea Joyce, where they were joined by Stenmark. "At the risk of sounding super desperate, I literally texted him in all caps like, 'PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE COME.' It meant everything to me. He's kind of a shy guy. I pulled him into the spotlight because he deserves it."
Stenmark, whose 86th and final World Cup win came at Aspen in 1989, conceded he is "very shy," but clearly he was happy to attend Vonn's final coronation. They posed together for pictures after the podium ceremony.
"I am very impressed of Lindsey that she skis so good and could come back after many injuries," Stenmark said. "That's fantastic."
Vonn has always craved the adrenaline rush of high-speed downhill, and her final ride lasted just over 62 seconds with an average speed just a tick under 60 mph and a top speed of 73 mph. She finished 0.49 seconds behind gold medalist Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia. Corinne Suter of Switzerland took silver.
"I laid it all on the line, and that's all I wanted to do today," Vonn told Joyce. "I have to admit I was a bit nervous, probably the most nervous I've ever been in my life. I wanted to finish strong so badly, and I had a really hard time controlling my nerves.
"I just charged. I gave it everything I have, like always. I put the nerves aside and I just enjoyed it. I love going fast, and it was just a perfect day for downhill."
Asked where she would rank her bronze medal — the same color she claimed at last year's Olympics in downhill — Vonn said she would "put it next to the gold medals" because of all the pain and injuries she has endured in recent years. Vonn had crashed hard in Tuesday's super-G, leaving her with a black eye.
"I fought with my heart the whole way down," Vonn said. "Definitely not with my body, but more so with my heart."
After 433 races — counting World Cups, Olympics and world championships — Vonn walked away from the sport she dominated with sore knees but a full heart. Joyce asked her what she would miss most.
"I'm not going to miss being cold," Vonn said. "I'm going to miss being with my team. We're a family, and it's going to be hard to not be around them. I've accepted where I am in my life, and I'm happy and I'm excited for the future. I've cried enough tears and now it's just time to enjoy it."