Lindsey Vonn’s season, and perhaps her Olympic career, came to a crashing halt Tuesday at the World Alpine Championships in Schladming, Austria when the world’s best speed skier tore the anterior and medial ligaments in her right knee and broke her a bone in her lower leg after falling at the end of a jump in the Super G.
It was the latest in a series of painful mishaps in global competitions for the 28-year-old Vonn, who was favored to win two medals at the biennial event. And while the US Ski Team’s news release stated that Vonn still is expected to compete in next season’s World Cup, which begins in October, and in the Sochi Games that begin a year from Thursday, she has to consider whether it’s worth undergoing what likely will be between 6-8 arduous months of post-surgical rehabilitation.
“She’s a tough character,” said her father, Alan Kildow, who told the Associated Press that Vonn could have surgery this weekend, probably at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colo. “A very determined and tough character. She will be back.”
Vonn’s startling tumble marked the sixth consecutive major championships in which she either entered with an injury, performed with one, or withdrew because of one. At the 2006 Olympics in Turin she competed after bruising her back in a nasty downhill training fall. At the 2007 world championships in Sweden, where she won silver medals in the downhill and Super G, Vonn injured a knee in training and missed the two slalom races. At the 2009 world event in France, where Vonn won both speed races, she gashed a thumb on a champagne bottle and missed the giant slalom.
At the 2010 Games in Vancouver, where she won gold in the downhill and bronze in the Super G despite a painfully bruised shin, Vonn broke a pinkie finger while falling in the giant slalom. Then, before the 2011 world championships in Germany, she sustained a concussion while training and competed only in the speed races after saying that she was “skiing in a fog.”
Though a December intestinal virus kept Vonn off the slopes for a month and deprived her of a chance of winning her fifth overall World Cup title, she still was favored to make the global podium in the Super G and was the favorite in the downhill, where she was en route to her sixth straight World Cup crown.
On a foggy day when racing was delayed for nearly four hours, Vonn led at the first checkpoint but later trailed Slovenia’s Tina Maze, who is atop both the World Cup overall and Super G standings.
Midway down the course Vonn landed awkwardly after a jump, flipped after her knee buckled, hit a gate, lost her ski, and slid down the hill, screeching curse words when she finally came to a stop. “Yes, yes,” she said when asked if she was hurt.
Despite the conditions, Maze, who started just before Vonn and watched her go down, claimed the gold medal, the first for her country in a speed event at a world championships. “I’m really sorry for Lindsey, who took a too direct line,” she said. “I regret her dreadful crash.”
Vonn’s teammate, Julia Mancuso, who started three places after her, won the bronze, her fifth medal at a world championship and her third in the Super G. “I can confirm that the visibility was great, there were no problems, and the course was also in good shape,” said Atle Skaardal, the women’s race director for the championships.
“I don’t see that any outside factors played a role in the accident.”
After being treated on the slope for 12 minutes, Vonn was airlifted by helicopter to a nearby hospital where she was evaluated, stabilized, and released so that her reconstructive surgery can be performed in the States.
“She’s a fighter and chances are that she will, I would think, essentially take all of that athletic energy and put it into her rehabilitation,” said Tom Hackett, an orthopedic surgeon at the Steadman Clinic who serves as team doctor for the US snowboarders. “There’s a really good chance she could come back.”