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Not many athletes do what Hilary Lindh did: Start a career as the best, and end it more than a decade later as the best. Lindh was 16 years old when she shook up the American ski world by winning the downhill title at the 1986 national championships.
Days later, she stunned the whole world by becoming the first American to win the downhill at the World Junior Championships.
It was the start of something big. For the next 11 years, the Juneau woman shined nationally and internationally in alpine skiing’s glamour event - the downhill - and it’s slightly less spectacular cousin, the super-giant slalom.
She retired in 1997 at age 27, still at the top of her game. She won national championships in her final two races - the downhill and super-G - and then resisted any urge to stick around one more year for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan. The winner of the 1997 world title in the downhill, Lindh would have gone to Nagano as a medal contender.
The highlight of Lindh’s career was the Olympic silver medal she won in the downhill at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. But perhaps her most meaningful accomplishment was the complete set of downhill medals - gold, silver and bronze - she collected at Olympic and World Championship competitions. She claimed gold at the 1997 World Championships, silver at the 1992 Olympics and bronze at the 1996 World Championships.
Lindh grew up skiing at Eaglecrest, a two-chairlift ski area 15 miles from downtown Juneau. As a teen she attended a ski academy in Utah, and at 15 she earned a spot on the U.S. Ski Team.
She spent the next 13 years racing until she retired during her reign as world champion to earn the college degree she had put on hold.
Like the baseball star who hits a home run in his last at-bat or the quarterback who ends a career with a Super Bowl victory, Lindh left skiing while she was still at her best.
I always wanted to go out on top,” she said after winning her final race. “This was the ultimate way to
– Beth Bragg
photo courtesy of U.S. Ski Team/Getty Images – Steve Powell
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