ARE, Sweden — Lindsey Vonn walked off with her career haul of medals in her right hand, the gold, silver and bronze clinking together, almost weighing her down.
Or was it the bulging knee braces and metal support rods inside her vast array of broken bones?
Whatever it was, the sound was a reminder of what Vonn has come to symbolize: An athlete who battled back from one major injury after another throughout her career to win more ski races than any other woman.
Add one last successful comeback to the list.
Five days after crashing in super-G — a fall that knocked the wind out of her and left her with a black eye and a bruised rib — and three months after tearing a ligament in her left knee, Vonn won the bronze medal in the world championship downhill Sunday in the final race of her career.
She had shed so many tears before that there were none left at the end, akin to the lack of cartilage in her knees.
"I'm literally tapped out; I can't cry anymore," Vonn said. "I want to cry, but it's dry. It's not an easy thing to feel your bones hitting together and continue to push through it.
"Of course I'm sore. Even before the crash, I was sore. So I'm just sore on top of sore. My neck is killing me. But at the end of the day, no one cares if my neck hurts; they only care if I win. I knew that I was capable of pushing through the pain one last time, and I did that. Every athlete has their own obstacles, and I faced mine head-on today and I conquered them."
Vonn had been planning on retiring this December, but she recently moved up her plans due to persistent pain in both of her surgically repaired knees. Then came this past week's super-G crash, when she straddled a gate in midair, flew face-first down the mountain and slammed into the safety nets.
"I was weighing in my mind the risk of putting it all out there, crashing and getting injured again, as opposed to finishing where I wanted to," Vonn said. "It was an internal battle."
Sunday's medal brought Vonn full circle: the American's two silvers at the 2007 world championships on the same course in Are were the first two major championship medals of her career. As soon as she exited the finish area, Vonn embraced Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark, the only skier to win more World Cup races than she did — 86 to 82.
"I basically begged him to come here via text, in all caps, many exclamation points," Vonn said. "He's an icon and a legend in our sport, and he doesn't really like the spotlight but he deserves to have it. I was just so grateful that he was there. Honestly, it's a perfect ending to my career."
The third skier on the course, Vonn had a big smile on her face when she came down with the fastest run to that point, waving and bowing to the crowd.
Eventually, Slovenia's Ilka Stuhec took gold, repeating as champion in the event after also winning at the 2017 world championships. Stuhec finished 0.23 second ahead of silver medalist Corinne Suter of Switzerland and 0.49 ahead of Vonn.
"Not many were counting on (Vonn) to get the medal in her last race, which makes it even more special," Stuhec said. "She has won everything."
Vonn became the first female skier to win medals at six different world championships and she secured her fifth downhill medal at a world championship, matching the record held by Christel Cranz and Annemarie Moser-Proell.
At 34, Vonn eclipsed her own record from two years ago for oldest woman to win a medal at a worlds.