VANCOUVER, British Columbia ( AP) - Lindsey Vonn took a deep breath, and her words trickled forth slowly, as she began to discuss the badly bruised and swollen right shin she fears could force her out of an Olympics many predicted would become her personal showcase.
Indeed, almost anyone with any interest in the Vancouver Games -
fans and competitors, yes, but also Vonn's sponsors and NBC - must
have been taken aback Wednesday when the U.S. star said: "I'm
sitting here today questioning whether, you know, I'll be even able
Vonn revealed the injury publicly two days before the opening
ceremony, and about a week after hurting herself during a slalom
training run in Austria, cutting short her preparation.
As a two-time reigning overall World Cup champion, Vonn is
considered a contender to win multiple medals, including an
overwhelming favorite in the downhill and super-G. And as an
outgoing, autograph-signing, product-pitching American, Vonn has
been positioned as Vancouver's answer to Beijing's Michael Phelps.
For a day, at least, that all was thrown into doubt.
As it is, Vonn sought to distance herself from such comparisons,
saying: "I'm not trying to be Michael Phelps. I'm just trying to
be Lindsey Vonn, trying to do the best I can every day. Obviously
with this injury, it's going to be even more difficult than I was
anticipating, but I'm just going to go out there and fight. That's
all I can do."
She is expected to test the leg at Whistler Mountain on
Thursday, when the women have their first official training run.
Their first race is Sunday's super-combined. Those who have been
around Vonn for years expect her to be in the starting gate,
setting aside the agony the way she's done so many times before.
"Knowing her - her competitive drive - if anyone could be ready
to go when the gun goes off, it will be Lindsey Vonn," U.S. Ski
and Snowboard Association CEO Bill Marolt said.
Vonn did her best to smile through all of the camera clicks at
Wednesday's news conference, but she also paused to sigh
occasionally while talking about the pain in her leg and the
possibility of needing to pull out of one - or all - of her five
She described herself as "very emotional, very scared."
"It's hard to stay positive, you know," said the 25-year-old
Vonn, who lives and trains in Vail, Colo. "A week ago ... I was
feeling great, I was feeling healthy, I had no problems. And now
I'm sitting here today questioning whether I'll be even able to
ski. So it's not where I want to be, by any means."
She was in a far better place Jan. 31, when she won a World Cup
super-G at St. Moritz, Switzerland, to clinch that discipline title
and extend her lead in the overall standings heading into the
Olympics. Two days later, Vonn was taking some extra slalom
training when she jammed a ski tip, toppled over and slammed her
right boot against her leg.
It was the first run of what was supposed to be a three-day
pre-Olympics camp. She hasn't skied since getting hurt Feb. 2, and
said it's even been arduous to simply put on a ski boot in her
hotel room to test the leg. Vonn said the bruising covers about a
6-inch swath - starting from where the top of a boot rests against
her body - but she refused to have an X-ray done to check whether
she broke a bone because she didn't want to know.
"I pretty much stuck my fingers in my ear and just pretended
like I didn't hear what was going on. I didn't want to hear that my
shin was fractured. At the time, that's what it looked like," Vonn
said. "If I fractured my shin, I wouldn't be racing the rest of
Vonn called the shin "probably the worst place that you can
have an injury, because you're constantly pushing against your
Other ski racers agreed that even if Vonn does go ahead and
compete, she could be limited.
"That's what puts her in her own league (among) the women:
She's on the front of the boot, and she really accelerates through
the turn," said Canada's Manuel Osborne-Paradis, a medal contender
in the men's downhill Saturday. "If she can't do that, then it's
going to open doors for a lot of other women."
Trying to speed the healing process, Vonn is having laser
treatments and trying a less-orthodox method: wrapping her leg in
topfen, an Austrian curd cheese, to ease the swelling. She's taken
anti-inflammatories, but said she hasn't tried pain medication,
meaning "there are still things that we can do."
Like most elite Alpine ski racers, Vonn is no stranger to
injuries. Nor would it be anything new for her to try to shut one
out while speeding down a slope.
"I've always been able to persevere," Vonn said. "I won't
really know until tomorrow, when I actually get on skis, and they
can actually assess the situation and see how bad it is."
At the 2006 Turin Olympics, she took a harrowing spill at
somewhere around 50 mph in training, a fall that bruised her back
and sent her to the hospital. Less than 48 hours later, Vonn - then
known by her maiden name, Kildow - finished eighth in the downhill.
This season, she lost control during a World Cup giant slalom in
Austria in late December, thudded to the ground and worried she had
broken her left wrist. It turned out it was a bad bruise, but Vonn
was right back out there racing in a slalom the next morning,
wearing a brace to protect the tender arm. Less than two weeks
later, she was stringing together a three-race winning streak.
In early December, Vonn's knee slammed into her chin as she sped
down a downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta, making her teeth chomp on
her tongue, causing blood to pour out of a corner of her mouth as
she crossed the finish line.
"She's a tough girl," said Bill Sterett, a U.S. Ski Team
doctor who first treated Vonn when she broke her leg at age 13. "I
think you can never discount Lindsey and how tough she is and how
much she wants this."
The U.S. Ski Team and USOC knew about Vonn's injury last week,
but otherwise she kept the bad news mostly to herself until
Wednesday, hoping against hope her shin wouldn't keep hurting so
much. Even her mother didn't know about the injury until seeing
Vonn initially disclose it during an interview with NBC's "Today"
show that was taped Tuesday night and aired Wednesday morning.
"This is in no way trying to give myself an excuse if I don't
do well. I wish that this had never happened. I wish that I was
coming in here healthy, and that I had to deal with all the
expectations with a healthy body, but obviously that's not the
case," Vonn said.
"I know that I've given it everything that I have," she added,
"and you can be sure that when I'm in the starting gate - if I'm
in the starting gate - that I will be out there to win."
Vonn Questions Whether She'll Race At Olympics
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