JEONGSEON, South Korea -- Lindsey Vonn said she needed a miracle to finish on the podium in the women's combined Alpine ski event Thursday. As she stood at the top of the slalom track, snow started to fall. An omen, perhaps? As it transpired, on a patch of land known for being sacred in this part of the world, the skiing Gods were not on her side and she crashed out of the slalom.
Her downhill run looked so commanding, the Vonn of old as she fearlessly set a time 0.74 seconds ahead of the chasing pack. But the slalom -- an event she has done only three times this season with it being unkind on exhausted knees -- proved to be her downfall.
"The miracle didn't happen, but I gave it my best effort. Slalom is tough for me. I fought really hard, but straddling is unfortunately something I do often, which is why I don't ski the event anymore." Vonn said. "As much as I had a very little chance of getting on the podium today, I still had a chance. ... Such is life."
Her U.S. teammate Mikaela Shiffrin was already on the podium at that point, guaranteed at least a bronze with Vonn going last. In the end, Shiffrin took silver, with Michelle Gisin taking gold and Wendy Holdener bronze.
Shiffrin went into the slalom 1.98 seconds behind Vonn and talked after the downhill leg of how her sixth-placed ranking eased the pressure on her. But as dominant as Vonn was in the downhill, Shiffrin nearly matched that in the slalom, posting the third-fastest time with 40.52 seconds. She made it look effortless.
She came to Pyeongchang with a lot of external expectation around her as she targeted potentially competing in five different medal events. In the end, she went in three: winning gold in the giant slalom, coming fourth in the slalom and then Thursday's silver to go alongside her Sochi 2014 gold in the slalom. She approached Thursday's combined calmer than usual, it was a case of, "Hey, let's see what I can do," she said. Silver was the reward in a Games where early on, she just wanted to go home as the scheduling alterations left her frustrated.
"It's been a mental roller coaster," Shiffrin said. "I got here nine days before the Games, got some training in. And in the first day on my skis, I felt terrible and thought I should just go home. But then I felt better and got over the jet lag.
"To come away from these Olympics with two medals is insane. The scheduling changes at the front end and having the combined being pushed forward, it was like someone was playing ping-pong in my brain. But today I felt pretty good."
Sacrificing the downhill and the super-G paid off. And she will now refocus on the World Cup, departing with memories not of medals, or scheduling but of her passion. "I'm going to be thinking of my skiing and do my best in the last few World Cup races of the season," Shiffrin said. "Finally, though, I get to celebrate a gold and silver medal. It's nice to be able to take a breath and walk away from a pretty successful Games."
Shiffrin parked thoughts of Beijing 2022 afterward, the sport as unpredictable as ever, as Vonn well knows. "It's incredible what's she's able to accomplish," Vonn said of Shiffrin. "She approaches ski racing so differently to everyone else. She had the potential to do more in these Games, but you can't expect everything all the time. She can ski for another 10 years and have more medals."
Vonn was the last in the mixed zone afterward, speaking to the media. The medalists had long headed inside. Snow started to fall again as she assessed the stresses, trials and tribulations of her professional career. The tears were kept for Wednesday's bronze in the women's downhill. "To come away with a bronze may have been disappointing for some but for me it was amazing. I'll probably cry later on, but I think I'm all tapped out right now."
Thoughts of the future were momentarily parked as she talked of how she hoped she has inspired budding skiers, she spoke of the pain her body is in, but also of the strain the sport has taken on her. If this is her last Olympics, as is widely expected, she bows out as competitive as ever but with a calmness.
"Things can change quite quickly, you have to appreciate every moment you have," Vonn said. "Ski racing has a way of taking a lot from you, which is why you have to love it and really have a passion for it if you want to have a long career."