In the last month, two of the most successful and influential female athletes strapped on their boots for the last time in competition. Skier Lindsey Vonn and snowboarder Kelly Clark both announced their retirement at the conclusion of the winter season.
Vonn, 34, settled on retirement citing pain in both of her knees making it difficult to continue racing. The most successful female Alpine skier in history, Vonn capped off her record-breaking career with her final competition at the Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS) World Ski Championships on Feb. 10, 2019. In the last run of her professional career, Vonn won the bronze medal and became the oldest female skier to medal at the World Championships –– yet another medal to add to her dazzling record.
Vonn is the first female skier to win medals at six different world championships. She also won gold for downhill skiing at the 2010 Winter Olympics, bronze in super giant slalom, “super-G,” at that same competition, and bronze in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Vonn holds the record for the most World Cup victories by a female skier at 82, which is only four wins short of the all-time record held by male skier Ingemar Stenmark. Stenmark’s was a record she has been chasing throughout her career, stating at the beginning of the 2018 season that she wanted to continue to the end of the year to break his record. Unfortunately, her incredible resilience to the injuries she has suffered throughout her career had begun to break and she said her retirement was necessary because she was “broken beyond repair.”
One of Vonn’s talents was her ability to maintain a high level of performance even after suffering debilitating injuries. During her career, she has suffered a broken arm, fractures in the left knee, a broken left ankle, torn ligaments, a broken bone in her right leg, a concussion, bruises, cuts and nerve damage in her right arm that impaired her ability to even write. Still, Vonn was able to return to the sport with the same confidence and ability that has enabled her to win time and time again to cement her legacy.
The most decorated snowboarder of all time, Kelly Clark, 35, announced her retirement at the 2018 Winter X Games. A trailblazer for all female athletes and a pioneer for women’s snowboarding, Clark has made history as the record holder for the most podium finishes of any snowboarder in the history of the sport. In nearly 200 events, she has made the podium 137 times and won overall 78 times. These wins include gold at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics when she was just 18 years old, followed by back-to-back bronze medals in the Vancouver and Sochi Winter Olympics in 2010 and 2014, respectively. She was the first American to win gold in the Women’s Halfpipe event at the Olympic Games, and the first female snowboarder to compete in five different Olympics from 2002 to 2018.
Clark also holds the record for eight Burton U.S. Open Halfpipe titles and has won the most X Games medals with seven gold, six silver and one bronze. Her victory in the 2011 X Games was also where Clark became the first woman to land a 1080 in the halfpipe in competition. This event was one of many moments when Clark pushed snowboarding to the next level and forged the way for female snowboarders in a historically male-dominated sport. In a statement posed to the U.S. Olympic Committee’s official website, Clark wrote, “The next generation will take halfpipe snowboarding further than I ever could. Today, I step away from competitive riding knowing that women’s snowboarding is alive and well, and in good hands.”
Both Vonn and Clark have made their mark on their respective sports and are ready to pass the torch on to the next wave of immensely talented female athletes including 23-year-old skier Mikaela Shiffrin (two-time Olympic gold medalist) and snowboarders 18-year-old Chloe Kim (2018 Olympic gold medalist) and 22-year-old Arielle Gold (2018 Olympic bronze medalist), both of whom were mentored by Kelly Clark during their careers. Vonn and Clark’s presence will also be felt in the winter sports communities through their nonprofit organizations. Vonn’s organization focuses on granting girls scholarships for education, sports and enrichment programs while Clark’s foundation gives talented young female snowboarders scholarships to be able to transcend financial challenges and compete in this expensive sport.
Vonn and Clark each played a significant role in shaping skiing and snowboarding as competitive sports and have now closed the book on each of their incredible careers. Both athletes’ perseverance and consistent excellence have established them as some of the best athletes of all time and their influence has helped make women’s winter sports the competitive events they are today.