By Rory Carroll
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – America’s women Alpine ski team acknowledged there will be a void when all-time great Lindsey Vonn eventually leaves the sport but pointed to Wednesday’s downhill results in Pyeongchang Games as proof they can contend for podiums for years to come.
Under clear blue skies at the Jeongseon Alpine Center, the Americans ended with three racers in the top 10, including Alice McKennis’ fifth place finish and Breezy Johnson’s seventh.
Vonn, the most accomplished female skier in the sport’s history, praised her team mates after the race.
“I’m so proud to have competed with such amazing girls,” the 33-year-old said.
“We help each other. Most of us have been injured pretty severely and I’m so proud and happy to have been training with them. It’s been fun,” she said.
While Vonn’s eventual departure would be a loss to the team it would not be the first time the U.S. would have to say goodbye to key athletes, Johnson said.
“She has led this team but this team is built on the many great female downhillers that have come before,” she said, citing retired American gold medalists Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso.
“We hope to continue that legacy and we hope to continue to build an amazing team.”
Johnson said the team was not done yet in Pyeongchang and hoped to pick up more medals in Thursday’s Alpine combined.
“We’re all happy that there is hardware coming home and we’ll have one more shot for those girls tomorrow,” Johnson said.
The team’s best shot on Thursday will come in the form of 22-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin, who won gold in giant slalom to kick off the Games before the U.S. failed to medal in slalom or super-G.
Shiffrin sat out Wednesday’s downhill so she could be fresh for the combined and will look to make up for what has on the whole been a disappointing Games for American women, where they were the favorites in downhill and slalom.
U.S. women’s ski team speed coach Chip White said he was upbeat following Wednesday’s race.
“The future is bright. Lindsey’s legacy will be pursued as she has inspired the world,” he told Reuters.
The 28-year-old McKennis, a team mate of the frequently injured Vonn for the past nine years, said her encouragement has been key to her finally feeling in top form after struggling through years of injuries and six surgeries.
“She has been so inspiring for me with my own struggles,” she said.
“My momentum is picking up,” she said.
“I had a rough couple years heading into the Olympics but things look to be turning around so I’m psyched on that.”
“We’re a great downhill team and we’re getting stronger in super-G so who knows what’s possible?” she said.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)