CHRIS DUFRESNE

The Sochi Olympics feel Lindsey Vonn's pain

2014 Sochi Olympics: U.S. women's alpine ski events and NBC's ratings figure to take hits without injured Lindsey Vonn competing.

SOCHI, Russia — Moscow hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics but the Americans weren't there, and Los Angeles hosted the 1984 Games but the Soviets stayed home.

The Houston Rockets claimed two NBA titles in the 1990s while Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan was off chasing curveballs.

Tiger Woods was recovering from knee surgery when Padraig Harrington captured the 2008 PGA Championship and British Open.

The Detroit Pistons swept the Lakers in the 1989 NBA Finals with injured Lakers Magic Johnson and Byron Scott on the bench.

So were the results of these accomplishments diminished?

Well, you could certainly argue it.

Few things devalue a high-level sporting event more than having to put "yeah, but" at the end of it.

The asterisk attached to the 2014 Sochi Games will come after three women's alpine races. The downhill, super combined and super G will be contested in Rosa Khutor without injured American star Lindsey Vonn.

That's like holding Olympic sprint events without Usain Bolt.

Vonn, 29, is the defending Olympic downhill champion and would have been a strong medal threat in super G and in super combined as well. She has recorded 54 of her 59 World Cup wins in those three disciplines — with 29 downhill victories.

There are few sure things in sports, especially alpine skiing, especially in the Olympics, in which the favorites have historically underachieved.

Had Vonn been healthy, the shock in Sochi would have been her not winning.

"We've lost some of the star value, and that's a big loss," Olympic historian David Wallechinsky said this week in Sochi.

Only Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell, with 62, has more World Cup wins than Vonn.

Before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Vonn won five of the six World Cup downhill races before getting gold in Whistler.

The absence of Vonn, out of these Olympics following her second knee surgery in a year, is a huge blow for NBC, which was counting on her star power to drive ratings. That her boyfriend is Tiger Woods only adds to the loss-of-promotion pain.

Vonn's anticipated return after a horrific crash at last year's world championships would have been one of the top story lines entering these Games. "The public-relations value, that's a separate issue," Wallechinsky said.

In terms of competition and the battle for medals, Vonn's absence is a gain for the rest of the world. The Austrians are still feeling the sting of earning only four alpine medals in 2010, half as many as the United States.

Don't expect any international skier to apologize if she ends up winning medals penciled in for Vonn. "They won't be diminished if you're not an American," Wallechinsky joked.

Vonn's injury has also opened up opportunities for Americans too, but it has come at a cost. You always knew where you stood when you trained against Vonn.

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