Lindsey Vonn dedicated her performance at the PyeongChang Olympics to her late grandfather, Don Kildow. And before she heads back to the United States, she made sure to leave part of Kildow in South Korea.
Kildow, who died in November at age 88, served in the Korean War with the United States Army Corps of Engineers. He was stationed in Jeongseon, not far from where Vonn competed the past two weeks. She hoped he would return to South Korea for the first time to support her during competition. Instead, Vonn, who won bronze in the women’s downhill, spread some of her grandfather’s ashes near the mountain where the races took place.
“I know that it would mean a lot to him to be back here, a part of him is in South Korea always,” Vonn told the Associated Press.
She chose a specific rock she learned about during a trip to PyeongChang last year:
Vonn said she sprayed parts of Don Kildow’s ashes “just a few days ago” on a rock that she was told was special when she visited South Korea last year to be named a Pyeongchang Olympic ambassador. She described the location as “right by the men’s downhill start.”
Before competition began, Vonn cried after being asked about her grandfather’s influence during a news conference.
“I want so badly to do well for him,” Vonn said. “I miss him so much. He’s been such a big part of my life. And I really had hoped he would be alive to see me. But I know he’s watching. And I know that he’s gonna help me. And I’m gonna win for him.
“It’s not really about me or my career. It’s about my grandfather. I’m just going to lay it all out there. I’m going to give it everything I have. I’m not going to be nervous. I know he’s looking out for me, and I think that actually gives me a lot of peace of mind.”
Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan described how Kildow impacted Vonn’s skiing career from a young age:
Her formative years skiing came on the 150-foot hill he built on an old cow pasture in Milton, Wisconsin. He and his wife, Shirley, have a shrine to their granddaughter in their basement. LINDSEY’S SKI DIARY, it says on a shelving unit with 39 binders that chronicle her career from speed-demon girl to the most accomplished female skier in history.
Vonn wrote her grandfather’s initials, “D.K.,” on her helmet during competition. She also wrote the Greek word for “believe” on the thumb of her right glove, another nod to her grandfather, who she paid tribute to in an Instagram post.
After winning bronze in the downhill, Vonn could not return to the medal stand in the slalom in what was likely her final Olympic race.
After Thursday’s race, Vonn was given gifts by a group of elderly South Korean men as a token of gratitude for her grandfather’s service.
Later in the day, a group of elderly South Korean men gave her family some gifts and a letter of thanks to mark her grandfather’s service during the 1950-53 Korean War.
During Thursday’s brief meeting with seven elderly South Korean men, Vonn nodded a greeting several times and repeated “thank you so much” to them. In their letter of appreciation, the South Korean men said they expressed their thanks for what they call her grandfather’s contribution for the freedom of South Korea. They also gave her traditional Korean fashion accessories and gloves.
If PyeongChang is indeed Vonn’s last Olympics (she said she’s 99.9 percent sure it is), she’ll round out her career with three Olympic medals — one gold in downhill (Vancouver) and two bronzes, one in downhill and one in the Super-G (Vancouver).
More Olympic coverage from Yahoo Sports:
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• Vonn’s final tribute to late grandfather in South Korea
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• Team USA hockey hero plans big purchase with winnings
• U.S. men boot Canada for chance at curling gold